Drivers in Texas and across the nation pay insurance premiums to protect themselves in the case of an accident. If they don’t, they are breaking the law in most states, including Texas. Being injured in a car accident is already a stressful event, but when the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance it makes matters worse. Unless others involved in the accident have uninsured motorist coverage, they must pay for any damage or loss the uninsured driver caused. Unfortunately, drivers in Texas encounter uninsured motorists far too often. The Insurance Information Institute believes that approximately 14 percent of Texas drivers don’t carry insurance, while the Texas Department of Insurance estimates that 20 percent of Texas drivers don’t have insurance.
Victims of an accident with an uninsured driver shouldn’t have to shoulder the financial burden. Even if the at-fault driver didn’t have insurance, there may be some options to recover losses related to the accident. Texas law permits accident victims to sue the at-fault driver for damages in civil court as long as they take action within the two-year statute of limitations.
If you were the victim of an accident with an uninsured motorist, contact the accident injury attorneys at The Law Offices of George Salinas in San Antonio at (210) 225-0909 to discuss the circumstances surrounding your accident and injuries.
Financial Responsibility Laws in Texas
Texas financial responsibility laws regulate the kind and amount of insurance each driver must carry. If drivers are independently wealthy enough to pay for damages after an accident, they don’t need to carry insurance. The vast majority of Texans are required to purchase auto insurance, which they must prove they have whenever they register a vehicle, get a car inspection, or get pulled over by law enforcement. Texas law requires those who buy auto insurance to carry the following liability coverage:
- A minimum of $30,000 of bodily injury liability coverage per person
- A minimum of $60,000 of bodily injury liability coverage per incident
- A minimum of $25,000 of property damage liability coverage per accident
If a Texas driver is caught no carrying the minimum insurance requirements, they face a $350 fine plus court fees for their first offense. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $1,000 and lose their driver’s license for two years. San Antonio police and other Texas law enforcement agencies can quickly check if a driver has auto insurance through the Texas Department of Insurance’s TexasSure Insurance Verification Program. This program is a database which lists vehicles registered in Texas, their vehicle identification numbers (VIN), and any associated insurance policies.
Texas Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance
All auto insurance coverage in Texas includes personal injury protection (PIP) coverage according to the Texas Department of Insurance. Those who wish to decline PIP coverage must do so in writing. Under Texas law, PIP insurance covers medical costs and lost wages incurred as a result of a traffic accident, regardless of fault. However, medical expenses and lost wages often exceed PIP policy limits in severe or catastrophic accidents. When a driver or passenger with PIP coverage has an accident with an uninsured driver, they should first file a claim under their own PIP policy to recoup some of the damages from the accident.
Texas Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage
Texas drivers are not required to buy uninsured motorist (UM) insurance. Texas law does, however, require insurance agents to offer UM coverage with other coverage. People purchasing insurance must choose to decline UM coverage in writing. Purchasing a UM policy can protect anyone covered under the policy in the event an uninsured motorist strikes them while they are walking, biking, or driving. A UM policy can help victims cope with their immediate needs for car repair, medical expenses, or lost wages up to the policy limit. Uninsured motorist coverage also kicks in if an at-fault driver leaves the scene of the accident and the police cannot locate them.
What to Do After an Accident with an Uninsured Driver
Taking the following steps after an accident can help maximize the likelihood of a positive outcome in a case against an uninsured driver:
- Get checked out by a doctor soon after the accident. If you don’t go to the nearest emergency room via ambulance, you should still get checked out by a physician. This provides medical documentation for your insurance company and proof for the court the accident led to your injuries, making it difficult for the defense to challenge the cause of your injuries.
- Record information about the uninsured driver at the scene. Take down the driver’s name, address, phone number, and vehicle information. You should also inform the police as soon as possible and have them come to the scene of the accident. You must report a traffic accident when injuries occur, and a police report might also serve as additional evidence to support your case. It’s likely law enforcement will also issue a citation to the other driver for not having insurance.
- Talk to eyewitnesses and get their contact information. Sometimes witnesses stop at the scene of an accident to offer help. Make sure to record their name, address, and phone number, especially if you are still waiting for the police to arrive. Witnesses are valuable in determining liability and proving fault to insurance companies and the court.
- Record conditions of the accident including road and weather conditions, as well as the date, time, and location. These things will be on the police report, but taking your own notes can help make sure that your perception of the circumstances surrounding the accident was the same as law enforcement’s record.
- Take photographs or video of the scene of the accident, if you can physically do so. Use your cell phone to take pictures or video of vehicle damage, hazards, license plates, any visible injuries, and anything else you think can help support your insurance claim and personal injury case.
- File a claim with your insurance carrier. If you fail to report your accident in a timely manner, your carrier might deny your claim. When you report an accident with an uninsured driver, one or more of your auto insurance policies might kick in to cover damages and injuries.
- Consult with an experienced auto accident attorney. Accidents involving uninsured drivers can be complex and messy. It’s best to talk to a reputable attorney, who may be able to help give you the best opportunity to recoup losses after an accident.
Recouping Losses After an Accident with an Uninsured Driver
In Texas, victims can take three different paths to recover damages related to an accident with an uninsured driver. None of them are perfect solutions, which is why it may be best to hire an attorney who can help the victim recoup as much as possible. The paths to recovering losses include:
- Auto insurance coverage. Victims can file a claim under their PIP policy and an uninsured motorist policy, if they have one. Depending on the severity of the accident, the victim might be able to cover some or all of their economic losses related to their injury. Severe accidents resulting in catastrophic injuries and permanent disability will likely exceed policy limits, but any available coverage can help take care of short-term needs.
- Health insurance coverage. When a victim seeks medical treatment because of an accident with an uninsured motorist, they can use their own health insurance to cover the costs. Health insurance companies usually require covered parties to pay a deductible or copays, and car accident victims sometimes run into network provider issues if they are transported via ambulance to an out-of-network facility. Once anyone covered by health insurance has received care that exceeds their policy limits, they are responsible for paying any additional cost of medical treatment out-of-pocket. In severe accidents, this can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.
- Personal injury lawsuit. Drivers who don’t have insurance typically cannot afford to pay their premiums, resulting in a temporary or permanent lapse of coverage. Even if a car accident victim files a lawsuit against the uninsured driver, the uninsured driver usually does not have any means to pay damages. Still, a lawsuit can hold the uninsured driver accountable and the court might be able to work out a payment arrangement to ensure the victim gets the compensation they deserve.
Insurance Company Responsibilities to Policyholders
At some point soon after an accident with an uninsured motorist, accident victims must report the accident to their own insurance carrier. Texas law requires insurance carriers to do the following after a policyholder files a claim:
- Notification of receipt. The insurance carrier must notify the policyholder within 15 days that they received the claim. They might also ask for proof of economic loss and require the policyholder to have a medical examination to assess the extent of their injuries.
- Estimate property damage. The insurance carrier must send an adjuster to assess property damage and place a value on repairs. Some companies require the driver to drive their vehicle to a claims center if the vehicle is still in driving condition after the accident.
- Made a timely decision. Insurance carriers in Texas must notify the policyholder of their decision to deny or accept a claim within 15 days of receiving all the information about the accident. They do have the option to delay for up to 45 days, but they must provide a valid reason for the extension. If they deny a claim, they must provide an explanation.
- Make prompt payments. Texas law requires insurance companies to send a check within five business days from the date they approve a claim.
Damages Victims Might Recover after an Accident
Texas law entitles victims of car accidents with an uninsured motorist to sue for damages when the other driver caused the accident. If an attorney negotiates a settlement or the court rules in the victim’s favor, they might recover the following damages related to the accident:
- Cost of medical treatment including ambulance rides, emergency room visits, hospital stays, surgery, radiology, and medications
- Cost of future medical treatment when an injury requires a lengthy recovery time or causes permanent injury requiring lifelong care
- Cost of rehabilitation services such as physical therapy and other specialist visits as well as wheelchairs, crutches, artificial limbs, and other assistive devices
- Lost wages from missing work due to injury, treatment, and recovery
- Lost future wages when a severe injury prevents an accident victim from returning to their job
- Non-economic damages including pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, or other types of damages that might apply to a particular situation
Family members who lost a child or other loved one in an accident with an uninsured driver might be able to recoup damages in a wrongful death lawsuit depending on their relationship with the deceased. An experienced personal injury lawyer can provide guidance on the best course of action for a deceased victim’s family. Surviving family members might be eligible to recover some of the above damages, funeral costs, burial expenses, and other non-economic damages for survivors.
San Antonio Uninsured Driver Accident Lawyers
When an uninsured driver causes harm to others, the victims should not have to absorb the financial costs of the uninsured driver’s negligence. Many different avenues offer victims the opportunity to recoup some or all of their losses, but an experienced attorney in their corner can help victims be sure they are getting the best deal possible.
A skilled car accident attorney who has experienced with uninsured motorist claims can evaluate a case and guide victims on the best path for their particular circumstances. Victims can let the attorney investigate the accident, gather information to build the case, and handle the minutiae of the case, while the victims and their families focus on healing. A qualified attorney can also negotiate with the victim’s insurance company and bring their case to court if a settlement isn’t likely.
The skilled legal team at The Law Offices of George Salinas in San Antonio has extensive experience representing clients in personal injury cases, including those involving uninsured motorists. Contact us at (210) 225-0909 or online for a free consultation to discuss your options.