Police officer taking photos of car accident on highway
Via: Los Angeles Times

What to Do After an Accident with an Impaired or Uninsured Driver

Being in an accident can be a stressful experience for anyone, and the consequences may be fatal or have lasting physical, emotional, and financial consequences.

Furthermore, an accident involving a motorist who is uninsured or impaired because of alcohol or drugs usually adds even more stress to an already complicated situation. And receiving compensation can be especially difficult if the driver at fault is uninsured.

If you’re ever involved in a car accident, one of the first things you should do is check to see if you have uninsured motorist coverage in your policy, which will significantly help your case. In the US, the Insurance Information Institute estimates that 12.6 percent of motorists, or about one in eight drivers, are uninsured.

Think it can’t happen to you? Think again. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 28 people die daily because of car accidents caused by at least one drunk driver. Many other drunk driving accidents result in injury or property damage.

The numbers don’t lie. Chances are, most drivers will encounter an impaired and/or uninsured driver on the road at some point. Here’s what you need to know before that happens.

What to Do If You’re in an Accident with an Uninsured Driver

If an uninsured or driver hits your vehicle, it is essential to follow these steps:

  1. Call the police immediately and explain the event in as much detail as possible.
  2. Take photos of the damage from the accident.
  3. Exchange contact information with the other driver and get information from potential witnesses.
  4. Contact your insurance company and inquire about the type of coverage you have in case of an accident with an uninsured driver.
  5. After the incident, seek medical attention immediately if you are injured.
  6. Contact a car accident attorney for a free consultation. They can help you file your claim, protect your rights, and assist you with the legal process.

How to Protect Yourself from a Potential Accident with an Uninsured Driver

Since around 13% of motorists involved in accidents drive without insurance or underinsured, you need to be prepared in case of an accident involving one.

Many insurance companies offer various types of coverage to protect you against uninsured drivers. Under these plans, you will be covered for medical bills and do not have to worry about the potential loss of wages or repair costs for your vehicle. Some examples include uninsured motorist coverage, collision coverage, and coverage that allows you to have a rental car in a collision.

Talk to your insurance company to determine whether you are protected against uninsured driving.

Required Minimum Coverage

By law, drivers in almost every state must have a minimum amount of insurance coverage in case they are involved in an accident. This is generally called third party liability insurance—if the insured is at fault in a collision, this type of insurance covers damages to the other party (up to a specific amount).

Suppose an accident takes place in which all drivers have sufficient third party liability insurance. That’s the ideal scenario. In that case, the insurance of the party (or parties) at fault will cover the costs of repairing the other party’s damaged cars, medical bills, other damage, or loss of personal property.

Unfortunately, statistics on uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage show that many drivers decide to get the most basic insurance, the minimum that state law requires to drive legally. This minimum amount is not always enough to cover expensive losses or damages—and in cases where one of the parties is impaired, it can create a legal quagmire that can be stressful and frustrating to handle, especially if you’re injured.

POV of a drunk driverVia: The Journalist’s Resource

What to Do If You’re in an Accident with a Drunk or Stoned Driver

If you suspect the other driver of being impaired or under the influence, it’s best to be cautious and limit your interactions with the impaired driver after you call the authorities.

Mention during your call that you suspect the other driver of being impaired. It’s vital to make sure medical professionals test the drunk driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) to officially document their level of intoxication.

However, don’t openly accuse the other driver of being drunk or at fault for the accident, even if you can clearly tell they are impaired. This may escalate the situation and lead to aggression.

Try to remain polite to avoid provoking a confrontation and prevent their potential irritation from escalating. If the drunk driver gets aggressive, they could further threaten your health and safety.

In addition, you might want to consider doing the following:

  • If possible, get involved in the criminal process. Although most judges don’t allow significantly reduced pleas when alcohol was involved in an accident, they may still allow drunk drivers who caused the accident to appeal the charge. For this reason, you may wish to oppose a plea bargain from the drunk driver who caused the accident and press charges.
  • Notify the drunk driver’s insurance company of your claim. You can get this information in the accident report from the responding police department. Then you will want to notify the other driver’s insurance company of your claim and your injuries as soon as possible.
  • Think twice about settling with the insurance company right away. If a drunk driver hits you, the insurance company may try to settle with you right away. However, in this case, you will be asked to sign a release that prohibits any further claims arising from the accident. So instead, make sure you have explored all available insurance coverage before settling.
  • Notify your insurance company of the potential for a SUM or underinsured motorist claim. New York, for instance, requires drivers to have minimum Supplemental Underinsured Motorist Coverage (SUM) coverage. This coverage protects you if the other driver is uninsured or has limited insurance to cover your injuries.
  • Try to find where the other driver was drinking to track down witnesses. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia permit bars and restaurants to be held accountable for serving alcohol illegally, in case it contributes to the intoxication of a driver who causes injuries.

There are no guarantees that you’ll be able to track down where the offending driver was drinking, but a thorough investigation can prove useful for obtaining testimony from potential witnesses (including the bartender or server), along with secure video footage (if there is any) to support your case.

Black Mercedes flipped on its backVia: Bardahl

Do Car Insurance Laws Differ from State to State?

Car insurance is required by the Department of Motor Vehicles to drive on US roads legally. In addition, many states require drivers to carry uninsured motorist coverage, in the unfortunate event that you are involved in a not-at-fault accident and the other party is either uninsured or underinsured.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), when it comes to compulsory auto insurance laws, each state sets the minimum amounts of insurance or other financial security that drivers must pay for the harm caused by their negligence if an accident occurs.

However, laws in most states have proven ineffective in reducing the number of uninsured drivers. There are many reasons for this:

  1. Some drivers cannot afford insurance.
  2. Some drivers with surcharges for accidents or serious traffic violations do not want to pay the high premiums resulting from a poor driving record.
  3. With the estimated percentage of uninsured drivers in the United States near 13 percent, it is costly to track down violators of compulsory insurance laws. Some drivers simply count on not being caught.

As a result, state insurance departments and insurance companies are using new techniques to combat the uninsured motorist problem—including electronic tools to verify auto insurance quickly.

Judge's gavel on the deskVia: Sora Shimazaki / Pexels

Even if your state doesn’t legally require it, it’s a smart move to purchase uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. Doing so provides you with vital protection in case you have an accident with a driver whose coverage is insufficient (or with a hit-and-run driver).

Uninsured vs. Underinsured Motorist Coverage

So how does uninsured motorist coverage work? Suppose you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident. You can submit a claim through your insurance for the cost of damages to your vehicle.

In the event that the offending party is uninsured or their insurance policy is not sufficient to pay for the cost of repairs, this additional coverage will ensure that the difference is covered (up to the limits in your policy).

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverages are typically purchased together, and both pay for the same kinds of expenses after an accident. The difference is that uninsured motorist coverage pays out in the event of a crash with an at-fault driver who doesn’t have insurance.

Suppose you are the victim of an accident and you submit a claim through your insurance for the cost of damages to your vehicle. In the event that the offending party does not have insurance, uninsured motorist coverage will cover the damages they have caused (up to the limits in your policy).

By contrast, underinsured motorist coverage is for accidents with an at-fault driver who has some level of insurance but not enough to cover all the costs. In this case, underinsured motorist coverage would cover some or all of the difference between the damage the other driver caused and the limits of their coverage.

Black car crashing into a red carVia: 23 WIFR

When driving, all motorists have a shared duty: to protect other drivers, pedestrians, and passengers. This is established by the driver’s manuals nationwide, which indicate how to drive appropriately to avoid accidents.

Still, it’s possible for anyone to be involved in an accident with an uninsured or impaired driver. Contact your car insurance carrier to find out how your coverage would apply to this situation, and consider purchasing additional coverage to protect you from the consequences if you don’t have it already.