When you exchange contact information with the driver at the scene of the accident, you do not know details about their auto insurance coverage. Only after your Denver car accident attorney contacts their insurance company to file a claim do you know how much coverage they have.
At the same time, you are learning how serious your injuries are and what damages you should seek. In many cases, you may learn the unpleasant fact that the driver’s insurance coverage will not pay all of your damages.
Your Damages in a Car Accident Case
In any car accident case, the other driver takes on the legal obligation to pay you once you can prove that they were responsible for your injuries. Usually, you must prove their negligence in causing the car accident.
Once that happens, the other driver may need to pay you for:
- The complete costs of all your medical care
- Lost income for time that you missed from work or any reduction in your earning capacity
- Pain and suffering for what you have had to endure since the accident, both physically and mentally
- Loss of enjoyment of the life that you had before the accident
- Emotional distress
Your attorney will review your case and determine how much you should seek in damages. A car accident lawyer compiles evidence to prove your damages and makes a demand from the other driver’s insurance company.
When the other driver does not have insurance coverage, it can complicate the matter. Your lawyer can examine your options in this situation.
Drivers Are Liable for the Full Extent of Your Injuries
An uninsured or underinsured driver is still liable for your injuries. They must pay you the shortfall after you file a claim against your own insurance policy.
The insurance company only pays up to the limits of the policy. The driver cannot get off the hook simply because they have minimal or inadequate coverage. Similarly, they cannot escape liability if they cause severe injury or death in a car accident case.
Then, you may wonder whether it is worth pursuing the driver for the additional damages.
Your attorney will determine whether the driver has any assets you can receive after you obtain a judgment.
Your Insurance Company Will Still Be Very Difficult to Deal With
If you think that “your” insurance company is really loyal to you, think again. Insurance companies do not treat their own customers any better than they treat third-party claimants. Your premiums pale compared to what they might need to pay to satisfy your claim. They do not care if they lose your business permanently. They just care about the here and now and what they can save on your claim.
Then, when it comes time to pay the actual damages in an uninsured motorist crash, expect the insurance company to balk. They may owe you for your medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering, at the very least.
You may have a large shortfall after you receive a settlement check from your insurance company due to your policy limits. Under the law, this deficit becomes the responsibility of the uninsured motorist.
You Can Sue the Driver Directly for Accident Injuries
Legally, you may sue an uninsured driver. They should pay you for whatever damages an insurance company did not cover. However, a personal injury lawsuit against the driver may not recover full, or any, financial compensation for your injuries.
When you win a personal injury lawsuit against an individual or a company, you will receive a judgment from the court. The judgment makes you a creditor of the defendant. You take your place in line with all other creditors. The judgment is unsecured, which means collateral does not back it.
In many states, the defendant can protect much of their personal property and their home from judgments. Some states allow you to garnish the defendant’s wages, although other states do not allow garnishment to satisfy personal judgments.
If you can collect on the judgment, you might receive:
- Part of the driver’s income
- Assets in their bank account
- Seizing other assets, such as investment accounts
However, the law may protect other assets, such as retirement accounts and pensions.
Some states may even suspend a driver’s license if they have an unpaid judgment from a car accident.
What You Can Actually Recover From the Driver?
Then, you must consider what you may actually get from the defendant. If they did not pay for auto insurance, chances are that they may not have the assets to satisfy a judgment. Unless their failure to buy auto insurance resulted from laziness or recklessness, they likely do not have the money to pay you what they owe. However, some drivers may have money they can use to pay you what they owe in the judgment.
Drivers May Use Bankruptcy to Avoid Paying
If the defendant cannot ever hope to pay a judgment, they may declare bankruptcy. If they file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, they must liquidate their possessions to pay their creditors. As one of their creditors, you may receive some of those assets.
Debtors can protect many of their assets in bankruptcy. In addition, they may owe money to other creditors. Thus, a defendant can escape accountability for much of the judgment. You can end up with pennies on the dollar if you can get anything at all.
There Is No One Black-or-White Answer
Some lawyers tell you that it never makes sense to sue an underinsured driver. That overly simplistic answer may not fit the facts of your situation. In any car accident case, never say never.
Your Lawyer Should at Least Investigate the Driver’s Financial Situation
Your lawyer may run an asset check to see what the defendant owns. They can also check whether the driver transferred any assets out of their name right after the accident. Your lawyer should only conclude that it makes no sense to sue the driver personally after they have researched the particular situation. Nobody should jump to any conclusion before they at least investigate the facts.
Your lawyer may tell you they have found some assets that make it worth pursuing the other driver. Your lawyer is working for you on a contingency basis, so they will not want to devote a lot of time to a matter with no potential payoff. If your lawyer tells you to go ahead with a lawsuit, it means that you might recover some money.
Hire a Lawyer for Any Car Accident Case
Even though you may not think you can get much when the other driver has insurance, it does not mean you can go without a lawyer in a car accident case. Your lawyer will still need to deal with your own insurance, which will fight your car accident claim as hard as anyone involved in the car accident legal process.
Like every insurance company, your own carrier will also make low settlement offers, hoping to settle the claim for a minimal amount. You may turn down settlement offers and continue to negotiate with or sue them.
Trying to Economize Will Come Back to Haunt You
If you try to go without a lawyer because you think you are saving money, you are only making a bad situation worse. Hiring a lawyer gives you the peace of mind from knowing that you have done everything within your power to maximize your financial recovery. Otherwise, you can end up getting far less than you otherwise might have if you had the right legal professional on your side fighting for you.
These are complex situations, even for some attorneys with years of experience. You put yourself at great risk if you even try to begin the process alone. Always seek a free consultation with a car accident attorney as soon as possible. They will know how to assess options for seeking compensation, even when the driver who hit you did not have the necessary insurance.
You Do Not Need to Pay Upfront for a Lawyer
Your lawyer will not charge you anything at the outset of your case, nor will they ask you to pay any bills while the case is pending. They work for you on a contingency basis. Your car accident lawyer is paid if and when you win your case, which means receiving a settlement check or winning a lawsuit. However, your lawyer will not charge legal fees if you cannot receive compensation from the responsible driver.
You have nothing to lose by allowing a skilled personal injury attorney in Denver to explore your options after an uninsured motorist injures you.