Being in a car accident is traumatic enough. But when the person who caused the accident is uninsured, it can add another level of devastation to a life-altering event. In many cases, the victim is left paying for another’s mistake, both physically and financially, even though he or she played by the rules.
Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia require by law that drivers carry auto insurance. However, many on the road fail to secure the coverage they need – some may be unemployed or can’t afford the premiums while some simply lack the consideration for other drivers.
The problem of uninsured drivers has steadily climbed as the economy has declined. According to the Insurance Resource Council (IRC), a nonprofit supported by insurers, 16 percent of drivers in the U.S. today are uninsured – up from 13.8 percent two year before. David Corum, vice president of the IRC remarked to USA Today, in 2011, “Over the last 20 years, uninsured motorists and the unemployment rate have tracked fairly closely.”
In Florida alone, the uninsured rate is 25 percent, making the state one of the top 10 states with the highest number of uninsured drivers. The problem is compounded by the fact that a driver can provide the Florida Division of Motor Vehicles with a fake insurance card and receive a registration and license plate number since the DMV has no way of checking if the card is real or phony.
“It is costly to track down violators of compulsory insurance laws, and unless the odds of getting caught are high and the penalties severe, drivers will continue to flout the law,” said Loretta Watters of the Insurance Information Institute (III).
Who is stuck paying the bills?
Because so many drivers neglect to pay their insurance rates, it’s up to the rest of us to foot the bill. In 2007, insured drivers paid $10.8 billion to cover the costs of motorists who don’t pay their policies – in Florida, that drives our average premiums to more than $1,500 each year. In fact, the IRC reported that 14 percent of car accidents are caused by uninsured drivers, putting the financial burden on everyone else.
Said Corum to USA Today, “Most of the people who do have insurance have coverage that includes uninsured motorist coverage…to protect them (if) they’re injured in an accident caused by another motorist who does not have insurance.”
In Florida, drivers are required to have a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection and $10,000 in property damage liability to cover any injuries that occur in an accident involving an uninsured driver. The problem is, most people only purchase the minimum, and if an accident does happen, that $10,000 can disappear very quickly. Your health insurance may cover all your medical bills, but factors like lost wages and suffering compensation could eat into your savings.
Therefore, the III suggests buying as much uninsured motorist coverage as you can reasonably afford. It’s unfair and it’s irritating, but when it comes to protecting your family’s health and safety from an uninsured driver, it’s incredibly important.
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Is it worth suing an uninsured driver?
Florida is a no-fault state, which means, as a driver, you can go to your insurance company to file a claim for payment following an accident, regardless of who caused it. The added protection of the uninsured motorist coverage helps cover the things your normal policy may not.
If your policy does not cover all of your damages, you have two choices – dip into your savings or sue the uninsured driver for damages. Litigation can be a long and arduous process, but in many cases, it may be the only recourse you have. Unfortunately, because the driver may not be able to pay his or her insurance premiums in the first place, there’s a good chance he or she may not be able to pay damages.
However, with a qualified personal injury lawyer on your side, you may be able to garnish the driver’s wages or put a lien on his or her property in order to secure the financial remedies you need to pay your medical bills and rehabilitation costs and cover lost wages.
What you can do to protect yourself
The unfortunate reality is that on today’s roads, there’s a good chance that the drivers passing you or sitting next to you at the stop light are lacking the proper insurance. If they’re caught, they will lose their license, vehicle registration and vehicle tag. However, if they’re never caught and cause a serious accident, it’s left to the victim to pay for their mistake.
Therefore, as all leading insurance associations suggest – purchase the minimum uninsured motorist insurance, and if you can, up the coverage as needed. And if a disaster does happen, find a reliable personal injury lawyer who can sue on your behalf to protect your financial well-being.
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