What Happens If You Get into a Car Accident with an Uninsured Driver?
An accident with an uninsured driver can complicate an already stressful claims process and exact a financial toll on you if you’re not carrying uninsured motorist coverage.
A day that already wasn’t a keeper by a long shot just took a significant turn for the worse when you learned the distracted driver you traded paint with (and hopefully contact information) isn’t insured.
Yes, driving uninsured is against the law in most states. So, too, is driving 80 miles an hour while scrolling TikTok. People still do both, at an alarming rate and at great risk to other drivers.
A 2021 study by the Insurance Research Council showed one-out-of-eight drivers operated vehicles without insurance. Depending on where you live, the number of uninsured drivers vary from 29.4% (Mississippi) to 3.1% (New Jersey).
In summary: if New Jersey could be called the “Born to Run State” because of Bruce Springsteen, maybe Mississippi should be known as the “Born to Run Into An Uninsured Driver State.”
Whatever the chances, the complications that come from car accidents with uninsured drivers could easily become a major headache that costs you financially if you’ve failed to protect your interests by carrying uninsured motorist coverage.
Uninsured motorist coverage (UM) isn’t required in all states. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia make it mandatory. And not all states requiring uninsured motorist coverage make both bodily injury and property damage coverage mandatory.
It makes sense to check the statutes in your state.
After you’ve taken several deep breaths and cursed your fate, move your car to a safe location, if possible. Assuming the other driver or drivers remain at the accident scene, you should identify possible injuries to all involved and call 911, if necessary.
Since an accident claim, or a civil suit if it comes to that, is a smoother process with a police report on file, calling the police while still at the accident scene, is a crucial step. Even more so when the other driver is uninsured, assuming he or she comes clean about not having insurance.
A driver not carrying insurance is breaking the law in every state but Virginia and New Hampshire. He or she may try to convince you to forgo calling the police for that reason, or even offer to cover all damages without getting insurance companies or the police involved.
Be smart. Protect yourself. Call the police even for a minor accident. Then call your insurance company, report the accident and provide as much detail as possible, including the names of the police officers on the scene and the number for the police report.
“Insurers like to have a police report if possible, and it’s required in many states,” Laura Longero, Managing Editor of Carinsurance.com, said. “If you have a minor parking lot accident, the police may not have time to come to the scene, but you will be able to tell your insurer that you did make the call.
“Furthermore, if there were any witnesses, get their names and phone numbers. Ask them to stay until law enforcement comes so that their statements can be recorded. Independent witnesses tend to give an unbiased description of how the accident happened.”
After you exchange contact information with the involved driver, take these steps to insure your side of the story is presented well:
- Take pictures of the damage to both cars.
- Make notes on the road conditions, the position of the cars pre-accident.
- Write down license plates and license numbers.
- Check the area for surveillance cameras that could support your case.
Gather all the information needed to prove you weren’t at fault. You might have to do just that. And don’t procrastinate. Insurers typically allow 30 days to file an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim.
» More About: What to Do After a Car Accident
Uninsured Driver Is at Fault
Here are your options if you’re involved in an accident with an at-fault driver who isn’t carrying insurance.
- File an uninsured motorist claim with your insurance company. Uninsured motorist coverage (UM) is made for just this situation: an accident that wasn’t your fault involving a driver who isn’t covered or is underinsured. If you have uninsured motorist coverage for bodily injury and property damage, it basically takes the place of the other driver’s liability coverage. Your insurance company should pay the medical bills for you and your passengers and vehicle damage according to the terms of your coverage. Keep in mind that in most cases, the limit on your UM coverage can’t exceed the liability coverage on your policy.
- File an accident claim with your own insurance company using the collision portion of your policy. If you don’t carry uninsured motorist coverage, you can file a claim with your insurance company using the collision portion of your policy. But if you accrued medical costs in the accident, collision coverage doesn’t cover that and you may have to file a claim through your own health insurance to cover medical bills.
“Collision coverage will cover damage to your own vehicle – even if an accident is your fault – but it depends on your state as coverage minimums vary by state,” Longero said. “However, keep in mind that any property damage and injuries are subject to the coverage limits of your policy.
“When it comes to car accidents, your car insurance will kick in prior to your health insurance. But you can never be certain that your car insurance or health insurance will cover all the injuries or property damage in an accident, which is why we recommend that people buy the highest level of coverage they can afford.”
Also, keep in mind collision coverage is paid out minus the deductible. There is typically no deductible, or a nominal deductible, with UM coverage. So, an accident with at an-fault uninsured driver may still cost you. One option at that point: File a lawsuit against the uninsured driver.
A free consultation with a car accident attorney would help decide whether pursuing a civil suit is a feasible course of action. The uninsured at-fault driver is responsible for your medical bills and property damage. But if there’s little chance that driver has the financial wherewithal to pay those damages, or the damages don’t amount to much, legal action might not be worthwhile.
“Attorneys do not want to take these cases if there is no money in it for them,” Marina Shepelsky, CEO and Founder at the Shepelsky Law Group in Brooklyn, New York. “Besides, insurance coverage is usually sufficient, and if you have full collision coverage, it starts with 50k and can go up to 500k depending on the purchased policy.”
Uninsured Driver is Not at Fault
If you caused an accident with an uninsured driver, you might be thinking how unfair it is that you’re carrying a policy that pays him or her for bodily injury and property damage while he refuses to carry a policy that would do the same for you in an accident that wasn’t your fault.
But don’t confuse being uninsured with necessarily being liable. If an insured driver is at fault in an accident with an uninsured driver, the insured driver’s insurance is, in many states, responsible for paying bodily injury and property damage claims.
The uninsured driver will most certainly face repercussions such as fines, or maybe even revocation of license, for driving without insurance, assuming it’s state law where the accident occurred. But that driver could still file a claim against you if you’re clearly the one who caused the accident.
If you’re at fault in an accident with an uninsured driver, you’ll need to account for a variety of scenarios.
- The uninsured driver files a claim with your insurance company, seeking damages for bodily injury and/or property damage. An accident investigation follows, requiring you to produce all the details and evidence you gathered at the scene.
- You live in one of the 11 No Pay, No Play states. Those states look to limit the compensation an uninsured driver can seek in an accident that wasn’t their fault. Uninsured drivers are breaking the law. In a No Play, No Pay state an uninsured driver who is not at fault can only collect economic damages, and is prohibited from recovering non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
So, with any luck, you live in a No Pay, No Play state but with better luck, you live in one of the No Pay, No Play states that put further limits on what uninsured drivers can collect in bodily injury claims and property damage claims.
State laws vary significantly when it comes to uninsured drivers. Make sure you understand the laws in your state or consult an accident attorney for advice.
Uninsured Drivers in No-Fault States
There are 12 no-fault insurance states:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
There are variations in policies even within no-fault states. But in general, drivers in no-fault states must carry personal injury protection (PIP) which covers medical expenses and lost wages for them and their passengers in an accident.
Regardless of fault, each driver files a claim with his or her own insurance company.
The idea in those states is to try to keep lawsuits to a minimum. Lawsuits can still be filed in no-fault states if damages and bodily injury reach a certain threshold but the intent is to keep car accident claims from clogging up the court system.
Accident claims are often complicated and frequently stressful, even more so when they involve uninsured drivers.
In any state, a free consultation with an attorney can help you understand your options, and, especially if you’re not carrying uninsured motorist coverage, help guard against collateral damage to your financial well-being.
- Chan, A. (2021, March 26) What You Need to Do When You’re Hit by an Uninsured Driver. Retrieved from https://quotewizard.com/auto-insurance/what-to-do-if-you-are-hit-by-an-uninsured-driver
- Girardin, M. (2022, December 12) Uninsured Motorist Coverage Guide. Retrieved from https://wallethub.com/edu/ci/uninsured-motorist-coverage/9647
- N.A. (ND) Top Tips for Handling an Uninsured Driver Accident. Retrieved from https://www.amfam.com/resources/articles/on-the-road/accident-with-uninsured-driver
- N.A. (ND) What is uninsured motorist coverage? Retrieved from https://www.progressive.com/answers/uninsured-motorist-insurance/
- Armstrong, H. (2021, December 30) Can An Uninsured Driver Hit By An Insured Driver File a Claim? Retrieved from https://www.findlaw.com/injury/car-accidents/can-an-uninsured-driver-hit-by-an-insured-driver-file-a-claim-.html
- N.A. (ND) Facts + Statistics: Uninsured motorists. Retrieved from https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-uninsured-motorists