Getting injured in any motor vehicle accident is upsetting. When the driver at fault hits your car, you expect their insurance company to cover damages to your vehicle and your medical expenses. Therefore, you probably have questions if an uninsured motorist injures you in an accident. Most people’s primary concern is whether and how they can obtain fair compensation for their losses.
Every Florida driver must carry auto insurance. In Florida, you must carry proof of current insurance coverage with you whenever you drive. Despite its many penalties for driving without insurance coverage, Florida has the sixth-highest number of uninsured motorists.
Some uninsured drivers feel they cannot afford the insurance, or their policy lapsed. Whatever the reason, an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist can cause a lot of trouble. Understand your rights and the possible ways you can seek compensation for your losses with the help of a car accident lawyer.
What does underinsured and uninsured coverage mean?
Uninsured motorist coverage is insurance protection that safeguards you in an accident with an at-fault driver who doesn’t carry bodily injury or liability insurance. Underinsured motorist coverage, on the other hand, protects you if you are in an accident with an at-fault driver who does not carry enough insurance. In these circumstances, your medical bills and expenses related to the accident frequently exceed the available coverage.
Uninsured and underinsured coverage, or UM coverage, is mandatory in twenty states and the District of Columbia. About 12.6 percent of drivers do not carry auto insurance even though they are regularly on the roads. While Florida law does not require it, the insurance company will offer you uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance coverage in addition to your required insurance.
You want UM coverage in case another driver injures you in an accident. UM coverage pays for injuries, lost wages, medical expenses, and other losses resulting from the motor vehicle collision. This coverage follows the insured individuals, not the car. In addition to the insured person, UM covers family members, passengers of your vehicle, or accidents in which you or your family members suffered an injury as pedestrians or cyclists.
UM covers hit and run accidents and phantom vehicle incidents, in which a crash occurs because of another driver who causes the accident without contact. You can seek damages for pain and suffering, but the coverage will not exceed your policy amount. For example, if you only have $50,000 in UM protection, your plan will only pay that amount for your total damages, including pain and suffering.
Typically, you can obtain either a split limit policy, which provides for different amounts of insurance depending on the number of people in an accident, or a single limit policy, which provides a fixed amount of coverage regardless of the number of injured people in the accident.
Florida car insurance law
Florida insurance law requires any vehicle with a current Florida registration to maintain personal injury protection (PIP). The law requires a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection to pay medical expenses and lost wages. In addition, coverage must include a minimum of $10,000 in property damage liability. PIP covers 80 percent of all necessary and reasonable medical expenses up to $10,000 resulting from a covered injury, no matter who caused the crash.
PIP insurance may be insufficient if your injuries are severe. PIP insurance only covers you, your passengers, and others in the same household. Therefore, even if the other driver is at fault, the at-fault driver’s PIP policy may not cover your expenses. The law also requires you to maintain continuous insurance coverage, even if the vehicle is not drivable or currently in use.
A vehicle owner must surrender their vehicle’s tag and license plate before canceling insurance, and a driver must purchase the policy from a Florida-licensed insurer.
Who may I hold liable for my injuries?
If you suffer a motor vehicle accident injury, you probably wonder who is liable for your injuries. Florida is a “no-fault” car insurance state, meaning that your insurance pays for economic losses, such as medical bills, in an accident. The law also limits the ability to receive compensation for non-economic losses such as pain and suffering.
To file a third-party insurance claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver, car accident injuries must meet the serious injury threshold.
To meet this threshold, you must suffer at least one of the following from the accident:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement.
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement.
Although your first instinct may be to file a lawsuit against the uninsured driver, this may not be your strongest option. Someone who does not have car insurance may not have enough money to pay for medical treatment and property damage. Even if the court awards a judgment, the defendant may have limited income or assets to pay the amount awarded. The judgment can set up a payment plan; however, the payments may be insufficient to cover your losses.
Depending on the circumstances, other individuals or entities may be liable, including:
- The company that manufactured the vehicle. If a vehicle or component malfunction caused the accident, the company that designed or manufactured the part of the vehicle might be liable. Manufacturers must produce safe vehicles that do not pose an undue danger. Faulty brakes, steering, or tires frequently cause accidents, possibly rendering the manufacturer liable.
- A mechanic who recently worked on the vehicle. If a mechanic repairs a vehicle, they are responsible for the work done on the vehicle. In some cases, during a repair, the mechanic may cause even more damage to the vehicle or mistakenly damage something else. In addition, the mechanic should evaluate the area of the car being repaired and note any other obvious problems. When a mechanic certifies a vehicle as repaired and ready for the road, even though there are obvious problems, that mechanic may share liability for any resulting accident. If the mechanic fails to complete the repair correctly or the vehicle is incorrectly certified as road-worthy, the mechanic or repair facility may bear liability for any accident caused by their failure.
- The owner of the vehicle. The vehicle owner is potentially liable even if they are not the driver. Take care when allowing uninsured drivers to use your car. First, ensure the driver has a valid driver’s license. The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is a legal theory upheld by the Florida Supreme Court that provides that the owner of something inherently dangerous can be liable for injuries resulting from its use, even when used by others. Therefore, in Florida, anyone listed on the vehicle title may be liable for a crash occurring when someone else drives the vehicle.
- The company that employs a driver on the clock. Employers often provide their employees with a motor vehicle to conduct company business. The legal theory of vicarious liability means that an employer may be liable for damages if an employee is on the job and at fault for an accident. This scenario might be true even if the employee was driving their personal motor vehicle at the time of the accident.
- An entity responsible for road design, construction, or maintenance. Dangerous road conditions, such as large potholes, blind curves, or faulty signs or signals can contribute to an accident. You may hold those responsible for maintaining safe roads liable if their negligence caused an accident.
What should you do after an accident with an underinsured driver?
Following an accident, to safeguard your rights:
- File a police report
- Never leave an accident scene. You may incur legal penalties for leaving an accident scene. Always report the accident and wait for law enforcement and medical professionals to arrive. The police report will be a vital piece of evidence. It includes contact information for the liable party, evidence from the accident, and information about who caused the accident. If you are dealing with an uninsured motorist, they may plead with you not to report the accident, but failure to report it can affect your ability to get compensation for your injuries.
- Seek medical attention. Often individuals involved in a car accident believe that they are not injured or that their injuries are minor. However, adrenaline can mask the symptoms of many serious injuries. These injuries may not appear for hours or even days after the crash, and untreated injuries may worsen. Always seek treatment from a medical professional soon after an accident. If there is a legal dispute, the opposing party may claim that you did not seek treatment because your injuries did not arise from the accident. Records of your evaluation and treatment may constitute important evidence.
- Do not accept liability, blame, or even apologize for the accident. Many people apologize or accept blame for accidents. However, accepting any blame may make you potentially liable for damages. Even innocent statements such as “I’m sorry this happened” may be taken out of context and used against you in a legal proceeding. Also, avoid posting pictures and comments about the accident on social media as the opposing party may use them as an admission of liability. Answer questions from the police honestly. If you do not know the answer, say so. However, avoid discussing the accident with others, if possible, until you consult your attorney.
- Contact your insurance company. Contact your insurance providers if the accident resulted in injuries or property damage. However, keep in mind that the goal of insurance companies is to pay as little as possible, so you may wish to let your attorney handle communications with your provider.
- Consult a car accident attorney. The sooner you hire an experienced attorney familiar with accidents similar to yours, the sooner you begin protecting your right to compensation.
How can a car accident attorney help?
A car accident lawyer can protect your rights and guide you through the legal process. You may be in pain or recovering from injuries. Therefore, you need someone to fight on your behalf.
For example, your attorney can:
- Investigate the accident. Your attorney has the skills and resources to investigate the circumstances of your accident, identify all possible responsible parties and review the applicable insurance policies.
- Handle all communications with insurance companies and opposing parties. Your attorney can help you obtain the full and fair compensation you deserve.
- Collect evidence and prepare a strong case. Most cases settle before trial, but your lawyer will draft the documents, obtain the evidence to support your case, and prepare to go to trial if necessary.
- Advocate on your behalf in settlement negotiations and court hearings. The legal process is complicated, especially if there is more than one liable party. Your attorney will seek to obtain the best possible outcome for your case.
If an underinsured driver injures you in a car accident, you will face challenges collecting compensation. You may face physical and emotional pain, a long and difficult recovery, lost wages, and soaring medical costs. As with all legal claims, you have a limited time to file claims or a lawsuit.
If an uninsured or underinsured motorist collided with you, contact an experienced, dedicated car accident attorney for more information and a free evaluation.