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UPDATED: Sep 14, 2017
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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).
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. The reason is auto liability insurance protects those who cause an accident.
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.
Liability insurance protects people from facing personal judgments when a collision occurs.
What a shame not everyone chooses to be responsible and carry insurance. A negligent driver might take to the road and accept the risks of driving without insurance.
When he/she causes an accident, the party who suffers in the aftermath may ask, “How can I sue an uninsured driver?”
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Filing Suit against a Negligent Driver
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.
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. Would-be plaintiffs need to check their individual state’s maximum small claims court limits for an exact figure.
Perhaps it would also be wise to consult with a legal expert to determine if a small claims court suit is advisable.
Interestingly, in Massachusetts, there is no limit imposed with suits involving property damage caused by a motor vehicle.
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:
Lack of 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.
Additionally, the state may even impose limits on how much can be recovered in a lawsuit.
Hiring an attorney can be expensive. 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.
In light of these realities, exploring insurance options for settlements seems to be a good plan.
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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.
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
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 for 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.
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
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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