California law requires that every driver operating a motor vehicle must have liability insurance. A driver who allows his insurance to lapse or decides not to purchase car insurance is considered uninsured. Unfortunately, not everyone obeys the law. In a recent study, about 1 in 8 drivers drive without insurance.

UNINSURED MOTORISTS ARE STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DAMAGES THEY CAUSE

A driver of a motor vehicle who drives without insurance is still responsible for the damages he causes. Under California law, an at-fault driver must pay reasonable economic and noneconomic damages caused by his negligence. “Economic” losses include property damage, past medical expenses, past lost wages, and medical costs for future care, as examples. “Noneconomic” damages include pain and suffering, and emotional distress, as examples. The damages an at-fault driver owes to another because of his negligence has nothing to do with insurance. A negligent driver owes reasonable damages whether he is insured or not.

COLLECTING DAMAGES FROM AN UNINSURED MOTORIST

As a practical matter, an uninsured driver who injures another may not have enough money or other assets to pay for the damages he caused. Thus, trying to collect money from an uninsured person could prove difficult and may not be worth the effort.

Also, an uninsured driver is not required to pay money until there is a “judgment” against him. A judgment is a decision by a court that includes an award of money to another. After a court awards money to an injured victim, that person can seek to collect the money. The person who owes the money may not have it and can file for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding. The person files papers showing he cannot pay the money he owes. A court considers the documents. A court can decide to wipe out all of the person’s debts, including a judgment if the court is satisfied the person cannot pay back his debts.

Thus, a money judgment against an uninsured motorist may not be worth anything if he files for bankruptcy.

UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE

Insurance companies must offer uninsured motorist coverage. The coverage is optional. You don’t have to buy it. If you don’t want the coverage you must sign a waiver. The form says you turned down the coverage.

WHAT IS UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE?

Uninsured motorist coverage covers you if you’re in an accident with a driver who does not have insurance and the accident was not your fault. The coverage pays for your property damage and also pays for your injuries.

HOW TO MAKE A CLAIM

To make a claim, you must prove that you were in an accident and the other driver did not have insurance. You can show you were in a car accident in many different ways. The best way is the police report. Another way is getting witnesses to the collision. A third way is getting the other driver’s information and taking photographs of the property damage.

Often, the person will tell the police that he had no insurance. If the person said he had insurance, you could contact the insurance company of the person. The company should tell you if the person had valid insurance.

WHAT YOU HAVE TO SHOW TO GET COMPENSATED

PROPERTY DAMAGE

California law states that when your car is damaged, you are entitled to the costs of repair. If your vehicle is found to be totaled, you are allowed the reasonable value of the car. Your car will be appraised by your insurance company. You are free to have your appraiser look at the vehicle in addition to the company appraiser. The two appraisers can resolve an issue over the costs of repair or value of the vehicle.

INJURIES

California law states that an injured person is entitled to reasonably necessary treatment. What is considered reasonably necessary depends on many factors. The primary consideration is the nature and extent of the injury.

For example, a neck sprain/strain injury is treated differently than a disc injury. A sprain/strain injury occurs when the ligaments and muscles are over-stretched and torn. Treatment usually consists of physical therapy over 2-3 months. In contrast, a motor vehicle collision can traumatize a disc. The spine has bones stacked on top of each other. The bones are called vertebrae. Each bone is like a block. In between each bone is a “disc,” which is like a jelly donut. The donut acts as a shock absorber. A collision can damage a disc. An accident can tear the doughnut causing the jelly to come out of the donut. The jam can affect nearby nerves causing pain, numbness, and tingling that radiates into the arms.

Physical therapy will usually not cure a damaged disc. Often, treatment for a damaged disc may need surgery to remove part of the disc or part of the jelly that is pressing on a nerve.

COMPENSATION

A person is allowed to recover money for two kinds of damages called economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic losses include such things as property damage, medical expenses, and lost wages. Noneconomic damages include such things as pain and suffering and emotional distress. All of these damages must be related to the accident.

CONTACT MCIS INJURY LAW – PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEYS

We encourage our clients to carry uninsured motorist coverage if injured by an uninsured motorist.