Hit by an Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist?

March 25, 2015

by Tanya P. Tambling

Imagine you are on your way to work in the morning when traffic on the highway suddenly slows.  Shortly after you brake, you are rear-ended by the vehicle behind you.  The driver of the vehicle behind you is at fault, but has no insurance.  As a result of the accident, you are severely injured, miss a couple of weeks of work, and incur mounting medical expenses.

Most people think they will be compensated for all their damages, including lost wages, medical bills, property damage and pain and suffering if they are the victim of an accident.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  Generally, accident victims only recover the amount of coverage the person at fault purchased.  In California, the minimum liability insurance coverage for private passenger vehicles is $15,000 for injury/death to one person; $30,000 for injury/ death to more than one person; and $5,000 for damage to property.  See California Insurance Code §§11580.1(b) and 16056.  So, if you are hit by a person with only $15,000 in liability insurance coverage and you have $100,000 in accident-related losses, you may only recover a fraction of your damages.  Is there a way to recover more than the $15,000 policy limit?  Possibly.

Protect Yourself Before the Accident Happens

The likelihood of being hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver in California is great.  According to the California Department of Transportation and the Insurance Research Council, about fifteen percent of drivers in California have no car insurance.  About one in three drivers are either underinsured or uninsured.

In order to protect yourself from uninsured or underinsured motorists, you can carry uninsured or underinsured (“UM”) coverage on your policy.  UM coverage can allow you to recover the difference between what you received and what you are entitled to.  You may also be able to make a claim with your own insurance company not only as the driver of an automobile, but as a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist, bystander, or passenger hit by an uninsured motorist.  As long as the uninsured vehicle made contact with you, you may have coverage.  However, UM coverage is provided only if you are not at fault in an accident.

What if I Don’t have UM Coverage?  Is There Another Way to Recover Damages?

One possible way to recover your damages is to file a lawsuit and secure a judgment.  However, the defendant driver must have assets.

Alternatively, a driver with insufficient or no coverage may have a homeowner’s insurance policy that provides coverage.  However, it can be difficult to tap into a homeowner’s policy since many have automobile exclusion policies.  Generally, courts will look to see if an automobile was the “predominating cause/ substantial factor” in causing the damage at issue.  Prince v. United Nat. Ins. Co. (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 233, 245.  The relationship between the use of a vehicle and the injury may trigger the exclusion.  Id.  For example, a court found that a homeowner’s policy did not apply for coverage of the death of two children in a car on a hot day.  The car itself was seen as the predominant cause and substantial factor of the injuries to the children even though the automobile was parked at the time of their death.  Id. 

An attorney can help you navigate through some of these issues and recover damages.  If you or your loved ones have been injured in an accident, you can call our office for a free consultation.  We have successfully represented accident victims and helped them recover damages, including UM coverage.  We can be reached at (510)-663-9240.

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