If you drive long enough, chances are you will be involved in some kind of motor vehicle accident. One of the most common types of car accidents is the rear-ender, when the motorist behind you has been following you too closely or becomes distracted and fails to stop in time or at all. While most drivers have the required liability insurance, what happens if your car is hit from behind by an uninsured driver?
How Many Drivers are Uninsured?
All but one state in the US require that its licensed vehicles be insured with at least minimum limits. In Massachusetts, the limits are $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident. These limits also apply to uninsured motorist coverage (UM). At any one time, about one in 6 drivers on any roadway, including Massachusetts, are uninsured. In some areas, the rate is as high as 25%. It is essential that you protect yourself if injured or if you suffer property damage by obtaining uninsured motorist coverage on your liability policy. Also, consider getting more than the minimum since a serious injury can leave you without much compensation other than PIP (Personal Injury Protection) benefits usually for payment of up to $8,000.00 of your medical bills and/or 75% of your lost wages in Massachusetts if the responsible motorist was uninsured. Your UM coverage cannot exceed the amount of your regular liability coverage.
Who Can Be Covered Under an UM Policy?
UM coverage is extended to persons who are injured while occupying their car, occupying a car they do not own or who is injured as a pedestrian or bicyclist. Coverage for UM extends to household members as well.
In any car accident, you can ascertain if the other driver was insured by asking the motorist for insurance information and the motorist either refuses, ignores you or simply tells you he or she is uninsured, or by reviewing the traffic accident report if law enforcement prepares one. Should you retain an attorney, your lawyer can also find this for you. If you suspect at all that the responsible driver was not insured, immediately advise your carrier of a possible UM claim as many policies place deadlines on being notified of an UM claim. Once you discover that you were hit from behind by an uninsured driver, you must begin the UM claim process to recover any compensation under your own UM policy if you have such coverage.
The UM Claim
An UM claim proceeds like any other injury claim except that it is against your own insurer who is now your adversary. The burden of proving the uninsured party was liable for the accident and your injuries and providing evidence to support your damages and losses is on you. Your insurer can hire its own defense attorney to take your statement under oath (depose you), send you interrogatories (written questions requiring answers under oath), request documents from you and ask that you submit to a physical examination by a physician of their choosing to show that your claimed injuries are not as extensive as you claim.
Your damages in a UM claim can include the following:
• Medical expenses
• Lost earnings
• Lost earning capacity
• Pain and suffering
If there was a fatality, a wrongful death action can be filed by the immediate family members (spouse, parent or child) to recover funeral and burial expenses, lost financial support and loss of love and affection. Pain and suffering is only recoverable if the decedent was conscious for a time before succumbing to his/her injuries.
Once your claim is prepared, you can make a demand for settlement and negotiate but you are limited to whatever your UM coverage may be. If you cannot settle, your case does not go to court to be tried by a jury or judge, but to binding arbitration before a single or panel of arbitrators in a less formal setting. The rules of evidence in an arbitration are the same as if you were in a courtroom though the arbitrator has discretion over the proceedings just like a trial judge.
Should You Retain an Attorney?
Trying to settle your own UM claim could be a disaster. Even though your claim will not go before a judge or jury, you still have to prove liability, the nature and extent of your injuries and your damages. In some cases, there may be coverage issues that must first be resolved. You are not on the same level of the insurance companies and the insurance companies have vast financial resources to dispute your claim. Your attorney can ensure that sufficient documentation from your medical providers is obtained, medical reports establishing your injuries and its relationship to the accident are prepared from specialists, that financial and rehabilitation experts support serious financial losses and therapy costs and that your claim is professionally presented and zealously pursued.
If your claim goes to arbitration, witnesses will have to be subpoenaed, examined and cross-examined and you will have to testify to support your claim. Medical records, reports, bills, employment or school records and possible expert testimony will have to be presented in a chronological and logical way and have foundational support so as to meet your burden of proof or your claim may be lost along with thousands of dollars in compensation. Your car accident attorney should have the experience and knowledge gained from years of presenting such claims at trial or arbitration.
Retain Personal Injury Lawyer, Deborah Gold-Alexander
For over 25 years, Deborah Gold-Alexander has been representing the interests of injured claimants in all types of personal injury accidents, including uninsured motorist accidents. Call her office today at (781) 289-4235 for a free and confidential assessment of your accident claim.