Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insuran...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager

UPDATED: Aug 12, 2021

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Key takeaways...

  • Filing a lawsuit against an uninsured motorist can take place in small claims court or in a major courtroom with legal representation
  • Suing an uninsured motorist could prove to be both fruitless and costly, which is why some attorneys won’t even take such a case
  • Purchasing uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage might be the better option for drivers since doing so may more reliably lead towards receiving a settlement

Laws exist in virtually all states compelling drivers to carry car insurance. Specifically, the insurance necessary to meet state obligations is auto liability insurance and/or personal injury protection (PIP) in some states. The idea is to make sure you’re not leaving others on the hook if you’re at fault in an accident. It also protects you from being sued up to a certain point. If you want coverage for your own car and medical bills, you’ll have to pay more.

Insurance requirement delineations depend on whether the state is an at-fault or no-fault auto region. Auto liability insurance takes center stage in millions of basic auto insurance policies. It helps you stay legal on the road and protects many drivers from extra complications at a relatively affordable price.

Accidents frequently lead to damages inflicted on person or property. Sometimes, more than one party suffers harm in an accident. The losses could add up even in minor accidents. While minimum liability limits may seem high, amounts like $25,000 per accident can be spent quickly. If you cause a significant amount more damage, the other driver could still sue you for the remaining amount.

Liability insurance protects people from facing personal judgments when a collision occurs.

So what happens if you’re hit by an uninsured (or underinsured) driver? In some cases, the uninsured driver may not have the assets to make it worth pursuing even if you have tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Many people seek out legal advice to make an informed decision. Some attorneys will work on contingency or offer a free consultation. They’ll generally ask for things like the police report and any documentation you have for your costs before taking any claims action.

Make sure you have the insurance you need in place and don’t overpay for it! Enter your zip code into our free rate comparison tool to find the right coverage at the right price today!

What Should You Expect When Filing Suit against A Negligent Driver?

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If the damage or injury suffered is minor, filing suit in small claims court might be the preferred approach. Small claims court may very well be the proper venue for someone who suffered, say, $500 in vehicle damage and $200 in medical expenses. Before pursuing this path, check on your state’s small claims limits. Your case can be thrown out if it belongs in a higher court.

In the bulk of U.S. states, the maximum amount one can sue for in small claims court is $10,000 or less with many capping the amount at $5,000. If you think your case might be bigger than this amount, it’s best to consult a legal expert first. If you plan to pursue a small claim court case, you should get receipts and other documentation to calculate an exact amount before you get started. If your state laws allow and it’s reasonable, you should also calculate in pain and suffering or other softer costs.

Interestingly, in Massachusetts, there is no limit imposed with suits involving property damage caused by a motor vehicle. The only question is if you have the documentation and if the person you’re suing can afford it.

In the aftermath of highly-serious auto accidents, hiring an attorney to bring forth a major lawsuit remains a possible option.

The attorney would handle all the important matters of the case which, of course, includes representing the client at all levels of the suit. Attorneys who specialize in both car accident and personal injury litigation bring significant experience to this type of litigation.

Unfortunately, suing an uninsured motorist might not be the best strategy. Two things to consider are:

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Will You Get Enough to Justify A Legal Claims Lawsuit?

Even if you go to small claims court, you should still consider how much time it will take you. You have to file the claim. If you win in small claims court, it would also be up to you to collect and file further motions if they fail to pay you. Before you get started, consider the following:

Do They Have Assets?

An attorney probably wouldn’t even want to waste time suing an uninsured motorist who lacks assets. The courts may deliver a judgment, but the plaintiff cannot collect if the defendant has nothing. They may just end up filing for bankruptcy.

Additionally, the state may even impose limits on how much can be recovered in a lawsuit.

How Much Are Attorney Fees?

Hiring an attorney can be expensive, but necessary if you’re going outside small claims court. The lack of assets on the part of defendant means the plaintiff covers the costs of his/her legal fees. So, legal fees are spent to win a case in which the defendant never actually pays out any money. Some attorneys will work on contingency. But that contingency activates when they win a claim, not necessarily when you get paid.

Was The Other Driver Completely at Fault?

Different states have different rules about how much you’re allowed to collect in personal injury suits. In some states, even if you were a little bit at fault, it could nullify your ability to collect what you need. Knowing your state’s laws is just one important part.

In light of these realities, exploring insurance options for settlements seems to be a good plan.

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What Are No-Fault States?

No-fault auto insurance states could greatly restrict the instances in which the victim in a car accident can sue.

In states dubbed at-fault or negligence states, the burden of financial responsibility falls on drivers who cause harm to others. To reduce civil litigation, no-fault states mandate drivers carry personal injury protection (PIP).

With personal injury protection, the driver injured in an accident would receive compensation from his insurer for the following, regardless of who is at fault:

  • medical payments
  • lost wages
  • other expenses

This does not mean there is no reason to purchase auto liability insurance. Buying such insurance remains a smart investment and, honestly, the purchase might not even be costly with the right comparison shopping strategy. Nor does living in a no-fault state mean lawsuits cannot be filed. Filing a suit just may be limited to narrower rules. For drivers injured by an uninsured driver, knowing their insurance company will step up to take care of them can be helpful.

In New Jersey, for example, certain specific conditions must be present to file suit in an auto accident outside the scope of the state’s no-fault system.

New Jersey’s shared fault laws also create complexities for collecting in a car accident. Shared fault laws are found in many other states as well.

Anyone who feels skeptical about civil suit laws or frets the legal system’s accessibility may wish to explore another option: seeking uninsured/underinsured motorist protection.

Acquiring Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Protection

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Uninsured/underinsured motorist protection is a coverage option a driver may purchase from his/her own insurance company. Uninsured motorist coverage allows a driver to file a claim on his/her policy when an uninsured motorist causes the accident.

With underinsured motorist coverage, a claim can be filed on the policy if a driver’s insurance fails to cover the total loss. That is, the negligent driver may only possess $25,000 in liability insurance but the damages are $40,000.

An underinsured driver claim could potentially provide the additional $15,000 by way of a settlement.

Filing a claim directly with an insurance company under uninsured/underinsured motorist provisions should be far easier than filing a lawsuit.

As long as the insurance claim is favorably filed, the process won’t require a long, drawn out, and expensive battle in court.

The uninsured/underinsured driver who caused the accident won’t be off the proverbial hook, though. The insurance company may choose to sue the person who caused the accident in order to recoup the money paid in the settlement.

Uninsured drivers take more risks than they frequently realize.

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Purchasing Uninsured Motorist Coverage

A website published by the Connecticut General Assembly reveals 22 states mandate compulsory uninsured motorist protection. In the remaining states, the coverage is an option. Mandatory or not, this type of insurance coverage could prove very valuable.

Acquiring the coverage may not even be very expensive. Effective comparison shopping and policy quote reviewing may lead to great deals.

Concerns to Ponder

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Why would someone choose not to carry auto insurance even though the state mandates doing so? Some may feel they simply won’t get caught. Depending on the sanctions for not carrying insurance, the levied fines may not be enough to truly deter the decision.

The driver might not have enough money to pay for insurance and takes the risk of driving without the coverage.

And in many cases, the driver may not possess any assets of real value. So, if they are sued, there is nothing to acquire or lien. Anyone wondering about purchasing uninsured motorist coverage really should ponder that information.

Adding uninsured motorist coverage may be the only viable way to receive a settlement in the terrible event such when a driver hits a car and injures someone.

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