It’s an understatement to say that coping with the aftermath of a car accident can be an upsetting experience. Often, your beloved car is in poor shape, you’re a little shaken up by the impact, you’ve just exchanged a few unkind words with the driver of the other vehicle, and you’re not sure how you’re going to make the commute to your job in the morning.
The good news is that your insurance company will soon be stepping in to help sort out the mess. If you’re not at fault for the accident, you should get a payout from the other driver’s insurance carrier to compensate you for the damage to your vehicle.
That’s what happens in a normal auto accident scenario—but what happens when you’re involved in a car accident with an uninsured driver? Here’s where things can get messy. If the at-fault driver isn’t covered by an insurance policy, then you can’t collect money from his or her carrier—there isn’t one to collect from. You do have other options, however; let’s explore some of these here.
Uninsured Drivers in Texas
Driving without insurance is more common than you might think, and it’s a problem that has significant financial implications for every person who operates a motor vehicle. That’s because the costs incurred by uninsured drivers tend to be passed on to those who actually comply with the law. On average, American drivers pay $67 per year on their auto insurance policies due to the financial losses associated with uninsured motorists.1
Texas is hardly immune to this phenomenon. Statewide, around 14 percent of drivers do not have automotive insurance.2 That means one out of every seven vehicles you see on the road during your daily commute is being operated by someone who has no valid insurance coverage. Not only does this lack of insurance expose these drivers to liability in the event of a car accident—it’s also against state law.
What Texas Law Says
Like most states (each of which sets its own rules in this regard), Texas compels motorists to carry automotive insurance, and any valid policy must include certain minimum requirements. In Texas, the requirements run as follows:
- $30,000 per person for bodily injury
- $60,000 per accident for bodily injury
- $25,000 per accident for property damage
These minimums are sometimes abbreviated as “30/60/25.” It is possible to increase these numbers for an additional fee.
Because not everyone understands how insurance minimums work in practice, it may be instructional to illustrate the process via example.
Let’s say a driver becomes involved in an accident, and the subsequent investigation rules that this driver is at fault. We’ll assume that the driver has insurance that covers only the legal minimums.
- If the other driver sustains $30,000 in injuries, the insurance policy will fully cover this amount.
- If the other driver sustains $50,000 in injuries, the insurance policy will cover only $30,000 of this amount.
- If two passengers in the other car are hurt to the tune of $30,000 each, then the policy will cover the full amount, due to the $60,000 “per accident” limit.
- If the other car sustains $25,000 in damage, then the policy will fully cover this. Anything over this amount will not be covered.
Uninsured vs. Underinsured Drivers
As the above-mentioned examples show, there are situations where a driver may have valid insurance that does not cover the entire amount of personal injury and property damage sustained by the other party. People in this situation are said to be underinsured. They are distinct from uninsured drivers, who have no insurance at all. Underinsured drivers aren’t breaking the law, while uninsured drivers are. Even so, what both types of drivers have in common is that they can easily find themselves unable to pay the bills they incur in an at-fault auto accident.
Note that hit-and-run drivers—people who leave the scene of the accident prematurely—fall into the uninsured category. It may well be that a hit-and-run driver has valid insurance, but it’s a moot point if the person flees the scene before you can get his or her info.
Getting UM/UIM Coverage
We’ve established that a significant number of drivers on the road lack adequate insurance. This poses an obvious problem for anyone who is harmed by an uninsured/underinsured driver. Fortunately, you can avoid these hassles by purchasing uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM). This will protect you in the event that you or your property gets harmed by an uninsured driver. This coverage is optional in the state of Texas, and all insurance carriers who operate here must offer it to their customers.
You can purchase UM/UIM coverage up to the limits of your standard liability policy. It can pay for damage to your property, for your lost wages, for any disability you may have suffered, and for various other expenses. Given the alarmingly large number of uninsured and underinsured drivers in Texas, it’s a good idea to look into purchasing this kind of coverage. It isn’t the perfect solution, because you could have expenses that exceed the maximum covered by your UM/UIM policy, but it can save you some headaches in the event of an accident.
What to Do at the Accident Scene
So, what should you do if you find yourself in an accident with an uninsured driver? The answer depends on the circumstances of the event.
Let’s consider one possibility: the hit-and-run driver. A lot of drivers who operate a vehicle without insurance will try to flee the scene of an accident ASAP. That’s illegal, of course, but it happens. In this case, your uninsured motorist coverage may save you, but only if you report the accident to the police. You should also get the contact information of anyone who witnessed the accident.
Most of the time, though, you will be dealing with a standard accident scene where you should exchange information with the other driver—who, unfortunately, may not have insurance.
Please resist the temptation to accept an on-the-spot cash payout from the other person. This is a common tactic for those who don’t have insurance, but taking the money could land you in trouble. For one thing, it could interfere with your ability to file a claim later, if you wish to do so. You also may not realize the true extent of the damage to your vehicle right away.
Try to get the other driver’s contact information, including his or her driver’s license number. Take pictures of the other vehicle, and be sure to get the license plate. As always, get the info of witnesses, too.
Suing an Uninsured Driver for Damages
If the other driver has no auto insurance and is at fault for the accident, then you can sue the person for any personal assets. Protecting against the possibility of losing our assets is the reason why we have insurance in the first place. The problem here is that people who don’t have auto insurance usually don’t have many assets either. Collecting the money to which you are entitled may not be easy; this is one reason why you should contact an auto accident lawyer who can provide guidance.
If you have UM/UIM coverage, your own insurance carrier can pay you for damages you have sustained, provided that the other party is at fault for the accident. Collision coverage offers another way to obtain compensation, as payouts are not dependent on determining who is at fault.
What if you don’t have either UM/UIM or collision coverage? Sometimes there is a third party who may be held responsible for the accident. This could come into play if, for example, the other driver was making a delivery for an employer; then it may be possible to sue the company that employs the driver.
In any event, you need to contact your insurance company as soon as possible following the incident.
How Our Houston Auto Accident Attorneys Can Help
Dealing with an uninsured/underinsured motorist situation presents a number of difficulties. That’s why it’s best to contact an experienced Houston car accident lawyer who can go through your available options and point you in the right direction. You can reach Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris 24 hours a day at 713-364-0723.