Protect Yourself From Car Accidents with Uninsured Drivers
So you get into a car accident, and begin exchanging information only to find out that the person that hit you doesn’t have insurance. Unfortunately, this happens far too often – and can leave you without compensation in the event of injury. However, there are steps you can take before you get into a car accident that can protect you. Speak with a car accident attorney from our team if you’d prefer we answer questions about your specific circumstances.
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It is estimated that 1 and 8 drivers in Ohio are uninsured. Ohio also has very low minimum policy limits of $25,000 per person per injury. Automobile accident injuries frequently result in damages much larger than these minimums. As a result, it is critical that you inquire into uninsured/underinsured coverage. This means that in the event of an injury caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver, you will still have the right of recovery against your own insurance company.
Collision coverage is the most common form of insurance coverage. If your car is damaged or destroyed in a car accident, collision insurance coverage will typically pay to fix or replace it. Types of covered accidents include hitting another car or hitting a stationary object, like a bridge or a tree. To further protect your investment, it is advisable to obtain GAP insurance as well.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
There are roughly 210 million licensed drivers in the United States, and it is estimated that nearly 30 million of them are driving without insurance. This number reflects a troubling fact that nearly 1 in 7 drivers on American roads are not insured. So what do you do if you’ve been injured by one of these 30 million drivers? The answer is often what is known as an uninsured/underinsured insurance claim.
Uninsured motorist coverage is a protection that helps pay for your expenses if you’re hit by an uninsured driver. Typically, when you’re in an accident and the other driver is at fault, his or her auto liability coverage would help pay for your medical bills or repairs to your car. But if the at-fault driver doesn’t have car insurance, you may have to pay out of your own pocket for those expenses. That’s where uninsured motorist coverage may help.
When you take out a car insurance policy in Ohio, you have the option of adding uninsured/underinsured coverage. At Sawan & Sawan, we recommend all drivers in Ohio purchase this, and $100,00/$300,000 is a wise starting amount. Currently, 21 states statutorily mandate uninsured coverage on policies. Up until 2001, Ohio was among the states that required insurers to ask clients if they would like such coverage, and get a waiver in writing if not.
However, numerous pro-Defendant legislative shifts in Ohio after 2001 has made it so insurers have no obligation to ask clients about such coverage. To make matters worse, Drivers in Ohio are only required to have $25,000 in minimum coverage. With the average car accident costing over $65,000, often times we must look to an injured client’s own policy to recover.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Underinsured motorist coverage is a protection that helps pay for your expenses if you’re hit by an underinsured driver. An underinsured driver is one that has auto liability insurance but either:
Their liability limits aren’t enough to cover your bills after an accident, or
Their liability limits are less than or equal to your underinsured motorist coverage limit
At Sawan & Sawan, we recommend at a minimum underinsured coverage in the amount of $100,000/$300,00 or more.
If Ohio law requires all drivers to have car insurance, why should I consider buying Uninsured coverage?
Ohio law requires all drivers to have proof of financial responsibility to pay for injuries or damages to others if they are responsible for causing an accident. To meet this requirement, most drivers buy car insurance that includes liability coverage. Unfortunately, some drivers disobey this law. A 2011 Insurance Research Council report estimates that in 2012, 12 to 15 percent of Ohio drivers were driving without car insurance. If you are in an accident, there is a real chance that the other driver may not have insurance. Even if the accident is not your fault, you may end up paying for accident-related costs, including medical expenses, out of your own pocket.
If I don’t buy Uninsured Motorist coverage, do I have any recourse against the at-fault driver?
You could try to collect accident-related damages directly from the at-fault driver, but if they refuse to pay, you may have to file a lawsuit. If the court agrees that the other driver was at fault, a judgment would be entered against that driver for the amount of your damages. Lawsuits can be expensive and take a long time. Also, many uninsured drivers do not have the financial ability to pay, so even with a judgment in your favor you may not recover any money.
If I buy Uninsured Motorist coverage, does this mean that the at-fault driver gets away with not having to pay anything for my injuries?
Not necessarily. If your insurance company makes a payment to you from your UM coverage, the company has the right to be reimbursed for the money they paid from the personal assets of the at-fault driver. This is why you should not try to “settle” your claim directly with the at-fault driver without your insurance company’s permission. Doing so may jeopardize the company’s right to recover and may mean that your UM coverage benefits will be denied.
Who is covered by an Uninsured Motorist policy?
Uninsured motorist coverage protects you, and in many cases, your family members injured by an uninsured vehicle, even if they are not in your vehicle when the injury occurs (if, for example, you or a family member is injured by an uninsured driver while crossing the street on foot). “Family member” means anyone related to you who lives in your home, including those related by marriage and adopted children. Family members who own and insure their own cars generally are not covered on your UM policy. Similarly, your passengers may be covered while riding in your vehicle, or they may have UM coverage with their own insurance companies. UM coverage forms can have different descriptions of who is insured and what policy provides primary coverage. Be sure to review the specific language of your own UM policy.
Might I be held responsible for injuries to the uninsured person who caused the accident?
In Ohio, you are responsible for injuries to another person if you are at-fault for the accident. If, however, the uninsured driver is more than 50 percent at-fault for the accident, you are not responsible for the driver’s injuries. If you are equally at fault, you would be responsible for paying 50 percent of the uninsured driver’s damages. If there are innocent passengers in the uninsured vehicle, and you played a role in causing the accident, you would be responsible for paying your share of their injury claims.
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Dennis P. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Georgia
Christopher A. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Michigan