I have been advocating for many years not only to my clients, but to my 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 approximately 40% 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.
Uninsured motorist coverage will cover your medical expenses, loss of earnings, and pain, suffering and emotional distress stemming from an accident with an uninsured driver who is at fault. Since medical expenses are astronomically high, having substantial uninsured motorist limits, such as $50,000.00 or $100,000.00, 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 involved in an accident with an unknown, hit-and-run vehicle which is at fault for the accident, your uninsured motorist will pay for your medical expenses, loss of earnings, and pain, suffering and emotional distress.
The law in California requires that 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 an actual contact.
Actual contact, though, does not necessarily have to be with a 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 actual contact. Oddly, however, if that paint can came to rest prior to the impact with your car, this would not be considered an actual contact. Often times, therefore, the question as to what was an actual contact is a heavily debated question.
Another requirement to bring a successful uninsured motorist claim based upon a hit-and-run vehicle, 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 one of these may bar you from bringing a claim against your own insurance company.
There is not much you can do about being involved in an accident with a hit-and-run driver. However, there are steps you can take to protect your legal rights against your insurance company when it claims there is no coverage based upon no physical contact. Following the rules below will help you in pursuing these difficult claims:
1. Attempt to get the license plate number, including the make and color of the vehicle that struck you.
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, never to exceed 30 days;
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 prior to getting involved in an accident you have substantial limits of uninsured motorist in case an unfortunate accident happens either with an uninsured, underinsured, or hit-and-run driver.