Lever & Ecker, PLLC June 18, 2019 Car Accidents
Getting hit and injured by another driver is bad enough as it is. Even worse: finding out the at-fault driver doesn’t have any insurance.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too common scenario… much more common in recent years, as a matter of fact.
If you’re the injured party with mounting medical expenses and other damages, you might find yourself wondering: can you sue an uninsured driver?
The easy answer to that question is: “Yes, in some cases.” But the better answers are: “You might not need to” and “You might not want to.” Here’s why.
New York is one of about a dozen states with some version of a no-fault insurance rule.
Under this system, after an auto accident in New York, you must first look to your own insurance provider for compensation for your personal injury damages.
So even if you were hit by an uninsured driver, your first claim for compensation will be filed under your own insurance policy. You will be entitled to recover for your damages (up to your policy limits), regardless of the other driver’s insurance status.
An experienced New York auto accident lawyer can help you hold your insurance company accountable to the terms of your policy and the letter of the law. (Unfortunately, even your own insurance company will likely look for opportunities to diminish or deny your claim, but a lawyer can fight back against those tactics on your behalf.)
What if you have serious injuries, though, and your damages exceed your own no-fault insurance policy limits? In those cases, you would typically file a claim against the other driver’s insurance company. But if the driver doesn’t have insurance, we will need to consider our next potential source of compensation…
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) is an important but optional form of auto insurance coverage. It is designed with this very situation in mind.
A UIM policy will cover you if the other driver doesn’t have enough insurance to cover the damages they owe you.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage is typically inexpensive, perhaps adding only a few dollars a month to your insurance premium. In fact, you might already have UIM without realizing it.
If you don’t currently have UIM, we encourage you to add it right away. While it’s too late to retroactively apply a new UIM policy to a preexisting accident, it can protect you from uninsured and underinsured motorists in the future.
What happens if you don’t have UIM (or if your UIM coverage still isn’t enough to pay for your serious injuries)?
Here’s where it’s an important to have a detailed and confidential conversation with an experienced New York auto accident lawyer.
To begin with, you shouldn’t assume that the other driver doesn’t have insurance. Some drivers have been known to lie about their insurance status, for one reason or another. Others may be genuinely mistaken about the current status of their policy.
Likewise, you shouldn’t take an insurance company at their word as to whether an insurance policy was lapsed. It is not uncommon for insurers to cancel policies prematurely or by mistake. For that reason, you should request proof of any alleged lapse in the other driver’s policy.
Even if it does turn out that the driver was truly uninsured, you may have options other than suing the driver directly. Depending on the circumstances of your accident, liability may extend to other parties who do have insurance.
An experienced New York auto accident lawyer can work diligently to identify any and all potential sources of liability in your situation.
What if you have exhausted all these other options, and the only way to get the compensation you deserve is by suing the other driver directly?
Can you sue an uninsured driver? Generally speaking, yes. But most people do not have enough money or assets to cover substantial auto accident damages. Even if you sue them and win, the more pressing question is: can you collect on the judgment?
If the person has no money, the court order won’t do you much good. For that matter, a judge is rather unlikely to force an individual to sell their every last possession and move out on the street just to pay for an auto accident.
Rather, your best hope in these situations would be a payment plan under which the at-fault driver agrees to small weekly, monthly, or quarterly payments over time. But these payments are often so small that they aren’t worth the trouble of going to court to get them. (And if the defendant ever stops paying those installments, as is frequently the case, you’d have to go back to court just to reinforce the order.)
What if the at-fault driver is extremely wealthy and has more than enough assets to cover the cost of your accident? In those circumstances, you may very well decide to pursue a claim against that person directly, and your chances of collecting are much better. If you have evidence of the defendant’s assets, an attorney might be interested in taking your case. Indeed, the at-fault driver may even be agreeable to a reasonable settlement.
In most cases, however, if someone is driving without insurance, it is not particularly likely that he or she is very wealthy. And a prudent personal injury lawyer will not take a case where they are unlikely to obtain compensation on your behalf.
So while you can sue an uninsured driver in some circumstances, doing so rarely proves worthwhile. Instead, talk with an experienced New York auto accident lawyer about the other options that might be available to you.
Lever & Ecker, PLLC is a New York personal injury firm with years of experience in helping auto accident victims and their families claim the financial justice they deserve.
We will not charge a fee for our services unless and until we get you money. Your initial consultation is free and confidential, with no obligations whatsoever.