Car accidents can cause considerable damage that have long-lasting and significant financial consequences for you and your loved ones. In normal car accident cases, you would be able to file a car insurance claim against the at-fault party’s insurance company. However, what if the other driver does not have auto insurance? In this case, what options do you have for recouping your losses?
California Car Insurance Requirements
If you drive a vehicle in California, you must meet one of four car insurance requirements. Those are as follows:
- Maintain an auto liability insurance policy for at least the minimum amount of coverage
- Obtain a self-insurance certificate from the DMV
- Pay a cash deposit of $35,000 to the DMV
- Purchase a security bond from a company that has a license to do business in California in the amount of $35,000 or more
If you decide to purchase an auto insurance policy — which is the most common option — you must meet the minimum coverage requirements. In California, the minimum coverage requirements include $15,000 for the injury or death of another person; $5,000 for property damage; and $30,000 for the injury or death of two or more persons.
You must maintain a liability policy, at a minimum. A liability policy is one that compensates a person other than the policyholder for damages he or she sustains in an accident. Though it is wise to carry comprehensive and collision coverage, know that neither meets the state vehicle financial responsibility requirements.
Your Options When the At-Fault Party Does Not Have Car Insurance
Despite the fact that California provides drivers with several coverage options and alternatives, an alarming number of motorists continue to go without coverage year after year. In fact, California is among the top 10 states for the highest number of uninsured motorists, with as many as 16.6% of registered vehicles lacking insurance. With such a high number of uninsured motorists on the road, there is a good chance you may encounter one via an accident, in which case, it is important that you understand your options.
File an Uninsured Motorist Claim
If you were involved in a car accident with an uninsured motorist, your best bet would be to file an uninsured motorist claim against your own insurance company. California does not require drivers to purchase uninsured motorist policies. However, given the high rate of uninsured drivers in the state, purchasing such a policy may make good financial sense. If you had to the foresight to purchase an uninsured motorist policy, you may be able to collect compensation for the following damages from your own insurance company:
- Medical Expenses: Medical expenses are the primary damage in any car accident case. If you sustained considerable injuries and, as a result, accrued substantial medical debt because of your accident, uninsured motorist coverage may compensate you for any and all medical-related costs. Those include but are not limited to emergency transportation, emergency room care, diagnostic exams, hospital stays, follow-up doctor’s visits and treatment, physical therapy, rehabilitation and the like.
If you continue to receive treatment at the time your case settles, you may be able to recover compensation for future medical expenses as well. However, proving future medical expenses may be difficult and require the testimony of a medical professional.
- Lost Wages: Car accident injuries can seriously disrupt all aspects of your life, including your career. If your injuries prevent you from working in any capacity, you may be able to collect compensation for lost wages. This is the case even if you can work but in a position that pays less or requires fewer hours. Additionally, you can recover compensation for the time you took off work to recover from your accident-related injuries.
- Pain and Suffering: Pain and suffering is non-economic damage that does not have any predetermined monetary value. Moreover, because pain and suffering are subjective, there is no real way to calculate their value. For this reason, many standard insurance policies do not compensate claimants for pain and suffering. However, most insurance companies allow insureds to claim pain and suffering when they file uninsured motorist claims.
- Property Damage: Vehicle repairs are another major damage that drivers sustain in car accidents. If your vehicle sustained considerable damage in your collision with an uninsured driver, you may be able to collect compensation for repairs, or even for a whole car replacement, via your uninsured motorist coverage.
- Domestic Assistance: Because of your injuries, you may be unable to engage in your normal household responsibilities. If this is the case, you may be able to include the cost of household help in your uninsured motorist claim.
If you have uninsured motorist coverage, consult with an attorney before filing a claim. An experienced lawyer can identify your damages and help you do what is necessary to recover the maximum amount of compensation from your insurer.
Sue the At-Fault Driver
If you are like most drivers in California, you elected to not purchase uninsured motorist coverage. In this case, you have two options: to pay for your accident damages out of pocket or sue the at-fault driver for damages.
Suing an at-fault driver for damages in California is often more difficult than filing a car insurance claim, as legal action typically comes with requirements, fees and hurdles. For starters, to have a valid car accident lawsuit in California, you must file your claim within two years of the date of the incident. Failure to do so is likely to result in your forfeiture of rights to compensation.
Additionally, lawsuits are expensive. Filing fees and other expenses aside, you can anticipate paying between 25% to 40% of your settlement or award in lawyer fees. On top of attorney fees, you may have to pay expert witness fees, court filing costs, court reporter fees, and the cost to obtain medical records and police reports. If you are not careful, the costs to file a lawsuit may quickly outweigh any compensation you stand to gain.
Finally, lawsuits are not a guaranteed path to recovery. Even if you do win your case, there is no telling whether the at-fault party can afford the judgment. If he or she cannot, there is little the courts can do to enforce the award outside of investigating his or her assets. If the at-fault party has little to no assets to speak of, your legal efforts may have been for naught.
That said, while suing an at-fault, uninsured driver is an option, it is not always the best option. If you hope to recover compensation via a car accident lawsuit, it is important to fully understand the other party’s situation and his or her ability to meet any court-imposed financial obligations before proceeding.
When To Consult With a Car Accident Attorney
Being in a car crash is frustrating enough. Being in an accident with an uninsured driver can be downright infuriating, not to mention stressful. While your situation may seem dismal, know that you do have rights and options. An experienced auto accident lawyer can help you understand your rights and, just as importantly, explore your options for financial recovery. If you were in a car accident with an uninsured motorist and need legal guidance, schedule a free initial consultation with Johnson Attorneys Group today. You have nothing to lose in doing so, but possibly a whole lot to gain.