A severe car accident can be a life-changing event, often wreaking havoc on injured parties and their families. When an accident results from another person’s careless choices behind the wheel, it makes the ordeal more stressful; however, filing an insurance claim with the at-fault party’s insurance carrier and initiating a lawsuit to recover damages beyond what insurance covers can alleviate some of the emotional and financial stress an accident victim might be experiencing.
When an uninsured motorist causes a motor vehicle accident, other drivers involved are forced to absorb the costs of property damage and injuries related to the accident, unless they have uninsured motorist coverage. Unfortunately, Texas drivers encounter this scenario far too frequently. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates 14 percent of Texas drivers don’t have insurance, which means a little less than a one out of seven chance that an accident might include an uninsured driver. The Texas Department of Insurance (TBI) estimates one in five, or 20 percent of Texas drivers, don’t have insurance.
If you have suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident caused by an uninsured driver, Texas law entitles you to seek compensation in civil court to recoup losses related to your injuries. Contact The Offices of George Salinas in Austin at (512) 851-1004 to discuss the details of your case and determine your eligibility for recovery.
Texas Auto Insurance Laws
Texas has financial responsibility laws the require drivers to have the means to pay for damages they cause in an accident. Most Texans meet this requirement by purchasing auto insurance, unless they are independently wealthy enough to absorb the liability of an accident. If law enforcement stops you, you register a vehicle, or you have a car inspection in Austin, Texas law requires you to show proof of financial responsibility, most often proof of insurance. When you purchase auto insurance in Texas, you must carry the following minimum liability coverage:
- $30,000 bodily injury and death liability coverage per person;
- $60,000 bodily injury and death liability coverage per accident; and
- $25,000 property damage liability coverage.
Anyone who doesn’t comply with financial responsibility laws in Texas will be fined up to $350 plus court costs for their first offense. Repeat offenders face up to $1,000 in fines and driver license suspension for two years. Law enforcement can quickly verify if a driver has auto insurance through the Texas Department of Insurance TexasSure Insurance Verification Program. This database includes records that connects vehicles registered in Texas with its license plate, vehicle identification number (VIN), and liability insurance policy.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance in Texas
According to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), all auto insurance includes personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. Policyholders who do not want the coverage must inform their carrier in writing. In Texas, PIP covers medical expenses and lost wages related to an accident for the driver and passengers up to the policy limit, regardless of who caused the accident. If you have an accident with an uninsured driver, your PIP coverage will kick in to pay for damages if your carrier approves the claim. Coverage limits are typically low for PIP, so it’s not uncommon for a serious accident to exceed policy limits.
Uninsured Motorist (UM) Insurance in Texas
Texas law does not require drivers to purchase uninsured motorist insurance; however, a UM policy may prevent financial loss in the event of an accident. Insurance agents must offer you this coverage if you purchase auto insurance, and you must inform the insurance company in writing if you decline UM coverage. Even if damages exceed your policy limits, your policy can help cover immediate needs created by mounting medical bills and lost wages, and it also covers hit-and-run accidents. UM coverage also pays for property damage if you need to get your car repaired.
Steps After an Accident With an Uninsured Driver
If you get into an accident with an uninsured driver, you need to take some immediate steps to ensure your insurance claim and potential personal injury claim goes smoothly:
- Seek medical treatment ASAP. If emergency response teams don’t take you to the hospital, you need to head to the nearest emergency room soon after your accident to get checked out by a physician. An exam provides medical documentation that shows the accident caused your injuries and prevents the defense from claiming you preexisting injuries, or challenging causation in other ways.
- Gather information from the other driver at the scene. In some cases, the police might not show up right away, especially if fatalities aren’t involved. Write down the other driver’s information, including name, address, phone number, and license plate number. Once you find out the driver has no insurance, you should call the police, if they aren’t there already. You will need a police report to support your claim, and you legally need to call the police if anyone was injured.
- Get witness information. If any witnesses stop at the scene of the accident, get their name, address, and phone number to give to the police, the insurance company, and your lawyer. Eyewitnesses are key to proving fault, making it difficult for insurance companies to deny a claim.
- Take note of your surroundings. Make sure to write down the time, date, and location of the accident. You should also record and weather conditions or road conditions, so you have a full picture of the circumstances surrounding the accident.
- Take photos. If you are physically able, use your cell phone to take photos at the scene of an accident. Capture any property damage, road hazards, visible injuries, licenses plates, and anything else to support your insurance claim and potential lawsuit.
- Inform your insurance company. One or more of your insurance policies might kick in after an accident with an uninsured driver, but you need to call your carrier immediately. Failure to report your accident in a timely fashion might result in your carrier denying a claim.
- Contact a personal injury attorney. Car accidents can be complex causes, especially when they include an uninsured driver. Hiring an attorney gives you the best chance of fully recovering your losses after an accident.
Seeking Compensation After an Accident With an Uninsured Driver
Recovering damages for losses related to an accident with an uninsured driver isn’t always an easy task, making it necessary to work with a qualified personal injury attorney in these cases. When an uninsured motorist causes an accident that results in injury, you have three options in Texas:
- Use your personal health insurance to cover the cost of medical treatment. Although this an option, it will most likely be your last resort. You will have to pay the deductible associated with your health insurance provider and it’s likely you will run into network provider issues. Many health insurance policies pay less, if at all, when you visit an out-of-network doctor or emergency room. Once you have exceeded your policy limits, you are responsible for the remainder of the cost. In severe accidents this can be tens of thousands of dollars, creating a steep financial burden.
- File a claim under your PIP coverage and uninsured motorist coverage. If you have purchased PIP and uninsured motorist coverage, you might be able to partially or fully cover economic losses related to your accident. Severe accidents causing life-changing injuries including permanent disabilities will quickly exceed policy limits, especially if you need extended medical treatment and 24-hour care.
- File a personal injury lawsuit against the driver. Some drivers are uninsured because they accidentally let their coverage lapse, but most drivers without insurance don’t have the money to pay the premiums, so you might find it difficult to get them to pay for damages out of their own pocket. Bringing a lawsuit can help hold them accountable and give you the best chance of recovering damages directly from the driver.
Types of Recoverable Damages After a Car Accident
If you or a loved one has sustained injuries in an accident with an uninsured motorist, you can sue for damages if the driver’s negligence caused the accident. Texas law requires you take legal action within two years of the date of the accident. If you file a lawsuit, you might recover the following damages in a settlement or if the court rules in your favor:
- Medical expenses including ambulance and emergency services, hospitalization, surgery, X-rays, prescription medication, and follow-up care;
- Future medical costs when an accident causes permanent injury or catastrophic injuries requiring extensive treatment and recovery;
- Rehabilitation expenses including physical therapy visits and assistive devices like crutches, canes, wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs;
- Lost wages when accident injury victims miss time at work due to their injury and hospital stay;
- Lost future wages when a severe injury prohibits an individual from returning to work or requires them to change jobs; and
- Non-economic costs including pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, loss of consortium, and others which might apply to your case.
If you have lost a loved one in an accident with an uninsured driver, you might be able to recover damages in a wrongful death claim. Consult with a personal injury attorney to advise you on the best path for you and your family. Surviving family members, depending on their relationship with the deceases, might be able to recover some of the previously mentioned damages, as well as funeral expenses, burial costs, and other family-specific non-economic damages.
Responsibility of Your Insurance Company After You File a Claim
You will be dealing with your own insurance company after an accident with an uninsured driver. Under Texas law your carrier must do the following after you file a claim:
- Notify you of receiving your claim within 15 days of filing. Your company might as for proof-of-loss, additional information, and request you have a medical exam to assess the extent of your injuries.
- Send an adjuster to estimate property damage. The adjuster will place a value on repairs. If your car is still in driving condition, you might have to take it to a claims center.
- Make a decision on your claim within 15 days from receiving complete information. Your carrier can delay your claim up to 45 days, but must inform you as to why—and must give you any denials in writing, with an explanation why the company won’t improve your claim. Don’t assume your carrier will immediately pay out on all claims because you hold policies with it. Insurance companies protect their bottom lines, and will deny claims for any reason they can.
- Make prompt payment upon approval. If your carrier approves your claim, they must send you a check within five business days from the date of approval.
Contact Our Austin Uninsured Driver Attorneys Today
When you are involved in an accident with a negligent uninsured driver, you and your family shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden or another party’s poor choices behind the wheel. Yet, when drivers don’t purchase proper insurance coverage, you are faced with absorbing or paying for these losses. You can take multiple courses of action to try to recover some or all of your loss, but you cannot fight alone. A skilled auto accident attorney who understands Texas laws about uninsured motorists will review your case and advise you on the best course of action for your circumstances.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident with an uninsured driver, you deserve full and fair compensation for your losses. An experienced attorney can support your case through investigation, gathering relevant documents, negotiating with your insurance company, and litigating your case when settlement isn’t an option. The skilled legal team at The Law Offices of George Salinas in Austin is here to guide you through this difficult time, and can aggressively pursue the best outcome in your case. Contact The Law Offices of George Salinas online or dial (512) 851-1004 to schedule a free consultation to discuss the details of your case, and learn how we can assist you after an accident with an uninsured driver.