Car accidents are never fun.
However, if you are involved in an accident with an uninsured driver, it often adds stress and frustration. While car insurance is required in Wisconsin, not everyone follows the law. In fact, about 14.3% of all drivers in the state did not have car insurance in 2015. If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured driver, you still have options. Understanding how to properly navigate the process and pursue a claim is important.
After an accident, even if the other driver is uninsured, exchange contact information, take photos, and call the police. Sometimes you do not have the opportunity to speak with the other driver or cannot even identify him. If this occurs, still collect any information that is available about the vehicle involved and contact the police right away. Taking these steps are crucial, and often necessary, to pursue a claim.
FILING A CLAIM
If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured driver, you will likely need to use your own insurance company to cover damages, like:
- Property damage
- Medical bills
- Wage Loss
- Pain, suffering and disability
- Future medical bills
- Future pain, suffering and disability
- Loss of society and companionship
These damages may be covered by your uninsured motorist coverage. This type of insurance coverage protects you if you are involved in an accident caused by an uninsured driver. It is important to note that uninsured motorist coverage might also apply when you do not have the identity of the other at-fault driver, such as in a hit-and-run accident.
According to state law, you must carry uninsured motorist coverage, with $25,000 per person limits, or$50,000 per occurrence. However, your uninsured motorist coverage cannot exceed your liability coverage. So, if you have $150,000 in liability coverage, your uninsured motorist coverage cannot exceed $150,000. You are also required to carry liability coverage of at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per occurrence, and property damage coverage of at least $10,000.
When you file an uninsured motorist claim through your own automobile insurance, it essentially means that your insurance company is stepping into the shoes of the at fault driver’s insurance company (if he had been insured). This means you have three years to file a lawsuit in court (or two years if a death resulted from the crash). It also means that your burden of proving fault and damages remains the same. Even though there is some time to file an actual lawsuit, there are tight notice requirements unique to uninsured motorist claims that must be addressed immediately. These nuances in the law are what make contacting an attorney right away even more important.
For example, your uninsured motorist coverage may also cover what is called a “phantom vehicle.” This occurs when a vehicle that causes your accident makes no physical contact with your vehicle, and the identity of its operator or owner cannot be determined. For example, if a car negligently moves into your lane of traffic, never makes contact with your car, but still causes a subsequent collision and then drives away, that may be considered a “phantom vehicle.” In that situation, certain witnesses are required and you must report the accident to the police within 72 hours. You must also file a specific statement, under oath, with your insurance provider within 30 days of the accident. If this is not done, Wisconsin statutes may prevent you from pursuing a claim. This is just one example of the possible limitations on pursuing a claim involving an uninsured motorist.
If you are involved in a crash with someone you believe does not have car insurance, or you cannot identify the owner or driver (such as a hit and run or phantom vehicle), seek counsel or contact your insurance company right away. If you do not file a claim on time, your claim may be barred.
Accidents with underinsured drivers can be especially stressful as well. In these cases, the individual who caused the accident may not have enough insurance coverage to pay for all your damages. After you have exhausted his coverage through his insurance policy, you may be able to make a claim under your own underinsured motorist coverage for your damages, including medical bills, wage loss, pain and suffering, that have not been sufficiently covered.
The underinsured motorist coverage available depends on your policy limits and insurance coverage. Typically, though not always, you are entitled to recover the limits on your underinsured motorist policy to the extent it exceeds the at-fault driver’s coverage. While underinsured motorist coverage is not required in Wisconsin, it is usually available as an option from your insurance carrier. If you do purchase underinsured motorist coverage, it must include coverage limits of at least $50,000.00/person and $100,000.00/accident.
Like uninsured motorist claims, you must file a lawsuit in court within three years (or two years if the crash caused a death). However, Wisconsin statutes state that this does not start running until resolution is reached on the claim against the person responsible for the car accident. It is important to still provide notice as early as possible to your insurance company of an underinsured motorist claim to avoid issues later.
HOW A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER CAN HELP
If you’ve been involved in a car accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, a reputable, experienced personal injury lawyer can help.
Lawyers can help navigate claims with your insurance company. In these cases, early notice to your insurance company is critical, and a lawyer can help with that. A lawyer can also help make sense of your options and determine next steps. This puts you in the best possible position for fair and full compensation, even if your claim is settled outside of court.