Uninsured Motorist Claims
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Have you or someone you care about been involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley or elsewhere in California?
What do you do if you have been involved in an auto accident and the other driver just ran away or does not have insurance?
What if you were a pedestrian or riding a bicycle and hit by a driver who drove away or does not have any auto insurance?
This is not unusual. Many drivers in California do NOT have insurance, so what should you do if the driver that hit you does not either?
You probably will not make a claim against the person who caused the collision if that person does not have any auto insurance because most people who drive without insurance don't have enough money to justify the time and expense of making a claim against them, then proceeding to court and then, if you win at trial, trying to collect from such person any judgment you might obtain after a trial. Even if you win, the other party might file for bankruptcy protection and then you might receive nothing even though you incurred all those court expenses and wasted considerable time and energy. So, what should you do?Uninsured Motorist (UM) Claims
Fortunately, there may be a solution. If you have uninsured motorist (UM) coverage on your auto insurance policy, you will be able to make a claim against your own insurance company for your losses without any detriment to you.
Even if you personally do not have auto insurance coverage, you still may be covered. For example, if you were a passenger in someone else's vehicle and the owner of the vehicle you were in has UM coverage, it should cover you.
If you live with someone who is related to you who has UM coverage, it also may cover you.
Even if you are a pedestrian or bicycle rider, if you or a relative you reside with have UM coverage, it may cover you. If you think any of these may apply, be sure to tell your attorney right away.
The UM insurance company pays when the other driver does NOT have any insurance. UM coverage pays for most (but not all) of the things that the other person's insurance would have paid if it existed. UM insurance coverage should cover the following losses:
Ambulance, paramedic, hospital and medical bills, including dental, x-ray, MRI and prescriptions.
Loss of wages, earnings and income.
Pain, suffering, disfigurement, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life activities.
Loss of future earnings and earning capacity.
There are some things that UM coverage may not cover, including the following:
Property damage. UM coverage does not cover damage to your car, towing, rental or loss of use. However, you may also have collision coverage that does pay for property damage, less your deductible, and UM waiver of deductible that may cover your deductible. You may also have rental reimbursement and towing coverage. Check your policy coverage carefully and give a copy of your coverage declaration page to your attorney to review.
Punitive damages. These damages are not covered unless your own insurance company wrongfully handles your UM claim. Then you may be able to bring a separate action against it for the bad faith handling of your claim. If you think this may apply, you should immediately consult our offices for advice.
Are you worried about making a claim against your own insurance company? You should not be! Remember, UM coverage is not a gift or present from your insurance company. You already paid a premium for it, so don't think you're taking "advantage" of your insurance company or doing anything wrong because you have to make an uninsured motorist claim.
You also don't have to worry that your premium will go up if you make a UM claim since California, like many states, prohibits premium increases if the accident was not your fault . And one of the best ways to prove and document that the accident was not your fault, so your insurance rates and premium will not go up, is to verify it while making a claim and your attorney can help you do this.Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Claims
Underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) is similar but not quite the same as uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. UIM applies when the person who caused your accident has auto liability insurance but the limits are not high enough or sufficient to fully compensate you for your losses. In contrast, uninsured motorist (UM) coverage, discussed above, applies when the other party does NOT have any auto insurance at all.
Here's an example of how UIM coverage works: Let's say the person who ran into you had insurance that pays only $25,000 for each person injured in an accident and your losses and damages are about $100,000. If you have underinsurance coverage (UIM), you will be able to collect the other person's $25,000 from the other person's insurer and then collect the balance of your damages from your UIM coverage, up to the limits of your own UIM coverage.
There are many limits, conditions and restrictions. For example, in California, using the above example, where the other party's insurance coverage is $25,000.00, your damages are about $100,000.00 and your UIM coverage is only $50,000.00, then you could collect the first $25,000.00 from the other party's insurer and only another $25,000.00 from your UIM coverage, for a total of $50,000.00. You cannot collect $25,000 plus $50,000, because in California you may only collect the difference in limits. This rule requires subtraction of the other person's limits from your underinsured motorist claim, resulting in a maximum benefit under the above example of $50,000.00. Thus, when purchasing auto insurance, to protect your family and yourself, be sure to buy appropriate UIM coverage. You should discuss this and all coverage amounts with your insurance agent and you also may call our firm for advice on this issue.
In California, UM and UIM claims are made against the insurance company, and if a settlement cannot be timely negotiated then the claim is pursued via an appropriate demand for arbitration. Unlike claims against other parties and their insurance companies, UM or UIM claims are not pursued by filing suit in the Superior Court. If the claim cannot be timely settled, then one needs to read the insurance policy to ascertain the specific procedures required to comply with the terms of the insurance policy to properly demand arbitration. If there is any question whether the other party has insurance, then we also advise filing suit in Superior Court.
The many rules, procedures and overall complexity of Uninsured Motorist and Underinsured Motorist Claims requires representation by an experienced Auto Accident Attorney.Legal Representation
If you were injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorist and decide to make an uninsured motorist claim/underinsured motorist claim, we strongly recommend that you find an attorney with experience making these claims.
You can be sure that the insurance company has its team already working on ways to reduce or deny your claim. A good attorney will keep these people in line. Any wrong move, and the insurance company may be faced with a lawsuit or mandatory arbitration, which is usually required in UM policies. In addition, if the insurer in an UM or UIM claims acts unfairly, you may have a separate and additional claim against it for "breach of contract" and/or "breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing," commonly referred to as acting in "bad faith".
We are very experienced in handling such claims. We invite you to contact our firm for a free courtesy consultation.Lawsuit Against the Insurance Company for Breach of Contract and Bad Faith
If your insurer wrongfully denies your claim or wrongfully handles it by delay or low offers, you may be able to bring suit against it for additional damages.
When you buy insurance, you naturally expect your insurer to be there for you, to promptly investigate and respond to communications, and to make a fair and equitable settlement offer to resolve your claims. If your insurer does not do these things, things that are required by the insurance policy, which is actually a contract between the insurer and you, and also expressly required under California law, specifically the California Insurance Code, including Section 790.03(h), then the insurer does not live not live up to its end of the bargain and may violate California law and may be subject to substantial damages.
You paid a premium when you bought the insurance policy. If you had an accident, you may have required medical care and incurred an expense that was covered by your insurance, and if the insurance company wrongfully refused to pay and to pay promptly, then you may have a cause of action against it separate and in addition to your coverage and initial claim for the actual injuries and damages from the underlying collision.
All insurance policies require that the insurance company act in good faith when reviewing a claim and deciding what action to take. If the insurance company did not perform an adequate investigation, or attempted to settle your claim for less than what it's fair worth, you may have a viable bad faith claim against it and you can recover all of your benefits and additional damages. For example, if you can establish a bad faith claim, you may be awarded additional damages for "infliction of emotional distress and fraud" and receive substantial additional funds for punitive or exemplary damages, which can exceed the actual amount owed under the contract.Statute of Limitations
The Statute of Limitations is a deadline to take action or your claim may be barred. It requires that claims be settled within a certain time period or the claim may be lost and ended unless arbitration or suit is timely filed to comply with the applicable statute of limitations.
You need to know the time limits for each type of claim as the time limits vary. In general, the time limit for UM claims used to be one year from the date of accident, but was changed to two years from the date of accident. However, there may be different rules in your particular claim so you should consult with an attorney to find out. Also, the actual demand for Arbitration of a UM or UIM claim must be timely and properly made at a certain address or location. You should consult with an attorney to confirm the appropriate time deadline and how to properly file for arbitration in your particular claim, and we invite you to contact our firm for a free courtesy consultation.
A civil lawsuit for breach of contract or bad faith must be filed within a certain time period in the correct courthouse after the insurance company makes its final denial of your claim. Once the statue of limitations expires, it may be difficult if not impossible for you to protect your rights and your claim may be permanently barred by the statute of limitations. Thus, it is important to be sure you understand the time deadline and process necessary to protect your rights in your particular case.
Insurance law is very complex. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you find legal representation as soon as possible and we invite you to contact our firm for a free consultation.Finding an Experienced Attorney
Our firm concentrates in handling personal injury claims and insurance disputes, including UM and UIM claims. We handle claims all over California, and we have helped thousands of people with their injury claims, including UM and UIM claims, for more than 40 years, and have obtained millions of dollars on their behalf. We invite you to take a look at our Testimonial page.