We have been advocating for many years not only to our clients, but to our friends and family as well, that carrying the most uninsured motorist coverage possible is always in your best interests. This stems from the fact that as many as 20% of all drivers in the state of California are uninsured. Therefore, the likelihood of being involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist is quite substantial. You must prepare yourself for this potential problem.
Moreover, since the required insurance limits in California are extremely low, if you are involved in a serious accident and the at-fault driver does not have enough liability insurance to cover your injuries, your uninsured motorist coverage now becomes underinsured motorist coverage to supplement the amounts available to you.
Uninsured motorist coverage will pay your medical expenses, lost earnings, and pain, suffering and emotional distress stemming from an accident caused by an uninsured driver. Since medical expenses are astronomically high, maximizing your uninsured motorist limits is essential.
Moreover, if you are involved in a serious accident and the at-fault driver does not have enough liability insurance to cover your injuries, your uninsured motorist coverage now becomes underinsured motorist coverage providing you with additional coverage.
One other reason to carry large limits of uninsured motorist has to do with hit-and-run accidents. Under most policies of insurance, if you are the victim of a hit-and-run vehicle, your uninsured motorist will pay for your medical expenses, loss of earnings, and pain, suffering and emotional distress.
In California, if the operator of the hit-and-run vehicle is unknown, your insurance will only take effect if there was physical contact between your vehicle and the hit-and-run vehicle. Absent physical contact, your insurance policy will not take effect. There is actually a very good purpose behind this rule, which is to avoid insurance fraud by simply claiming that a phantom vehicle cut you off and caused you to run your vehicle into a center divider. Your insurance company will investigate your vehicle to find paint transfers or other damage to your vehicle which would prove physical contact.
There is an exception, however: physical contact does not necessarily have to be with another vehicle. For instance, if a paint can fell out of the back of a truck, rolled along the freeway and struck your vehicle, that would qualify as physical contact. Oddly, however, if that paint can had come to rest prior to the impact with your car, it would not be considered an actual contact. As a result, oftentimes there is considerable debate about what would constitute actual contact.
Another requirement to bring a successful uninsured motorist claim for a hit-and-run is to report the incident to the police department within 24 hours. Additionally, most insurance policies require that you report the accident to your insurance company within 30 days. Failure to do either of these may bar you from bringing a claim against your own insurance company.
There may not be much you can do about a hit-and-run driver, but there are steps you can take to protect your legal rights against your insurance company if it claims there is no coverage because there was no physical contact. Following the rules below will help you in pursuing these difficult claims:
1. Immediately write down anything you can about the vehicle that struck you, including any portion of the license plate, the make and model or type of vehicle, the color, and any distinguishing features such as damage or bumper stickers.
2. Notify the police department within 24 hours of the hit-and-run accident, providing as much detail as possible;
3. Make a claim with your automobile insurance policy as soon as possible, but always within 30 days of the incident;
4. Do not attempt to make any repairs whatsoever to your damaged vehicle prior to allowing your insurance company to inspect the vehicle in its damaged condition;
5. Obtain the names and addresses of anyone who witnessed the incident. This will help your insurance company fully investigate the accident.
Most importantly, however, make sure that before you head out on the road you have substantial limits of uninsured motorist in case you are ever unfortunate enough to be in an accident with an uninsured, underinsured, or hit-and-run driver.