Many people believe they only need a car accident lawyer to assist them with a claim if they file a third-party claim against an at-fault party’s auto liability insurance policy. In truth, a car accident lawyer can assist you in filing a claim against any relevant insurance policy, including your own uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. Here is a look at this type of coverage, when it is available, and how a car accident attorney can help you file a UM/UIM claim.
What Is UM/UIM Coverage?
According to a recent Insurance Research Council study published by the Insurance Information Institute, around one in every eight drivers 12.6 percent of all drivers on the roadway do not have auto liability insurance.
Many other drivers have met the minimum insurance requirements for the state where they live (see New York’s insurance requirements here). Still, the coverage is insufficient to fully compensate for injuries and property damage incurred to others in an accident.
While New York and New Jersey had some of the lowest rates of uninsured drivers, at 4.1 percent and 3.1 percent, there are still many instances in which an individual is injured by the negligence of another driver who does not have adequate insurance resources to compensate the claim fully.
UM/UIM coverage refers to a type of coverage available with most auto insurance policies.
- UM is uninsured motorist coverage, which offers compensation for the expenses and impacts of an accident in which the at-fault driver did not have insurance.
- UIM is underinsured motorist coverage, which provides compensation when the at-fault driver does have a liability insurance policy. Still, the policy limits are too low to compensate the claim fully.
Around half of all states in the U.S. require UM/UIM coverage, and this type of coverage is available as an add-on in other states. For example, both coverages are optional and available in New York and New Jersey while Massachusetts requires uninsured motorist coverage, but underinsured coverage is optional.
Although UM/UIM coverage is optional in many places, insurance providers offering this coverage still must adhere to minimum limits. For example, in New Jersey, UM/UIM policies must have a minimum of $15,000 in bodily injury coverage per person, $30,000 per accident, and at least $5,000 in property damage coverage.
When Does this Coverage Apply?
If an uninsured motorist hits you, your UM policy will cover medical bills and property damage you sustained due to the accident. Likewise, UIM coverage provides compensation for the cost of medical treatment and property damage if you’re involved in an accident caused by a driver who is insured but doesn’t have enough coverage to compensate your claim.
With both of these types of coverages, claimants are also generally permitted to seek non-economic (pain and suffering) damages for their injury’s impacts on their quality of life.
In the case of a hit-and-run accident in which the other party involved left the scene without providing you with their contact and insurance information, you can also seek compensation through your uninsured motorist coverage. However, some states will only cover bodily injury through this policy. Property damage would require additional optional coverage.
Do You Need UM/UIM Coverage?
To decide whether you need this coverage, ask yourself:
- Do you have a health insurance policy that can cover auto accident injuries? Check the coverages of the policies you have to ensure that you can obtain coverage for medically treating your injuries before determining that you don’t need to pay for UM/UIM coverage.
- Does your health insurance policy have a deductible? Most UM/UIM policies don’t require a deductible, meaning you can save on out-of-pocket costs by accessing this coverage instead of paying a high deductible for coverage from your health insurance policy to kick in.
- Does health insurance cover your passengers? UM/UIM policies provide coverage for your passengers.
- Does your health insurance policy cover the cost of lost income? UM/UIM coverage often includes wage loss.
Reasons Why You Need an Attorney to Pursue Coverage from Your Own Insurance Company
If the at-fault driver did not have insurance or did not have enough to cover the expenses and impacts you experienced as a result of their negligence, you simply file a claim with your own insurance company for the balance of the claim.
Seems easy, right?
Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Insurance companies are not in the business of compensating claims. They’re in the business of collecting premiums for coverage. Although required to consider all claims filed against the policies they sell, they have plenty of reasons (some legitimate, some not) to avoid paying them, whether the claim is made by a third party or by their insured.
Here is a look at the issues that typically arise when someone attempts to file a UM/UIM claim against their insurance policy.
Insurance Companies Don’t Like to Pay Claims, and They Have Lots of Excuses
Not only do they not like to pay claims and have a lot of excuses as to why they won’t, but insurance companies are also backed by their legal department that understands what they are required to do when a claim is filed. On the other hand, a claimant who attempts to deal directly with their insurer, as the claims process was designed, may lack the legal assistance or understanding of their right to seek compensation if an uninsured or underinsured motorist has harmed them.
Some of the tactics used by insurance claims adjusters to devalue or eliminate claims—even those filed by their insured—include:
- Deliberately delaying responding to or investigating the claim
- Requesting information from the claimant that isn’t necessary for evaluating the claim
- Getting the claimant to admit liability for the accident, even if they weren’t at fault
- Pressuring the claimant to accept a ridiculously low settlement offer, usually with an arbitrary deadline and the statement that it is the maximum amount of compensation available for the claim
An attorney managing all communication with the insurance provider will better protect the value of your claim from these common insurer tactics, which can result in a higher settlement.
A Car Accident Lawyer Understands the Process
While insurance companies bank on claimants’ lack of understanding of the process and are, therefore, likely to fall for their tactics, experienced car accident lawyers know the laws and can easily spot and avoid these classic pitfalls. They understand how to read and interpret insurance policies and can determine what is and isn’t covered by the policy before the claim is even submitted. They also know the type of documentation and evidence needed to prove the claim and the court process that can be used if the insurer refuses to pay.
A Car Accident Lawyer Has a Legal Team to Help with the Heavy Lifting
To prove the need for insurance coverage and justify the compensation you seek, you need evidence and documentation:
- The police report, which contains information about the accident and the drivers involved. The police report is prepared by the officer who arrives on the scene to investigate. Generally, an accident investigation is required if the accident results in bodily injury to anyone involved or extensive damage to either of the vehicles.
- Accident scene photos that you or your passenger could take. Photos that can help prove your claim include those that feature damage to the vehicles involved, visible injuries sustained by anyone in your vehicle, the weather or traffic conditions at the scene, and skid marks and debris left on the roadway from the accident.
- Medical documentation, including bills for treatment, the results of any diagnostic tests that were performed, and any notes your health care providers included in your chart about your condition.
- Invoices for other expenses, such as the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle, as well as wage information and a record of the amount of work you missed as a result of your injury.
- Witnesses statements. There are two types of witnesses that can play a role in proving your claim. Eyewitnesses include those who saw the accident take place or were present at the scene and interacted with the drivers involved. They are used to help show how the at-fault driver was behaving on the roadway before the accident occurred, how the accident occurred, or anything the parties involved said at the scene. Expert witnesses are professionals in certain industries, such as accident reconstruction or medicine, who can provide an opinion based on the facts of the case as to how the accident occurred or the type of impact that a specific injury would cause to a claimant’s quality of life.
The Services an Attorney Can Provide to Help You File a UM/UIM Claim
After you and your attorney have agreed to work together on your claim, your legal team will immediately investigate the accident to determine as much about the case as possible. Two of the early determinations that they will attempt to make through this investigation is a determination on all sources of liability and all insurance resources that can be accessed to compensate the claim.
- An auto liability insurance policy held by the at-fault driver
- Other relevant insurance policies held by liable parties. For example, if your accident was believed to be the result of a defective auto part used on one of the vehicles involved, the manufacturer of that part will generally have a business liability policy that can come into play. The legal team will also review your insurance policy in search of coverages such as personal injury protection (PIP), collision coverage, or UM/UIM coverage.
- A claim valuation is based on several factors, including the availability of insurance policies that can provide coverage, the severity and permanence of your injury, and the expenses it has created.
- Submitting your claim to the appropriate insurance provider and managing communication with the claims adjuster to avoid the claim being devalued by insurance company tactics.
- Negotiating a settlement with the provider of your UM/UIM policy that fairly compensates you for your injury and provides the guidance you need to decide on whether to accept the offer.
- Filing a lawsuit in court against your insurance provider if they fail to provide a fair settlement of your UM/UIM claim by either paying the claim’s full value or engaging you in a settlement agreement. Lawsuits must be filed within the state’s statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Most state statutes of limitations on this type of claim are between one to four years from the date of the accident. While this seems like a long time, many things need to happen before a case is filed as a lawsuit. Failing to file before the statute of limitations has expired results in the claimant being barred from using the court process for their claim and will also almost always result in the insurance company failing to settle the claim. Your attorney will protect your rights by managing the timing of your claim to ensure it is filed within this legal deadline.
- Helping you to receive your compensation for your claim and satisfy medical liens placed on your award. Medical liens are often used as a way for someone to obtain the medical treatment they need shortly after an accident before compensation has been received for any claim.
If a car accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist injured you, don’t take on the financial burden your insurer should cover. Contact an experienced lawyer who can evaluate your accident during a free case evaluation.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.