January 10, 2024 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

You weren’t expecting to get into a car accident on the way home from work or on the way to the store. But another driver was inattentive or careless—and now you’re facing injuries and a damaged car. At least you know that the other driver’s insurance will pay for your medical and car repair bills.

Or will it?

Although California requires all drivers to carry liability insurance, 16.6% of California drivers are uninsured.

If the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance, there are still two ways you can get compensation to cover your medical bills and car repairs:

Use your own insurance coverage:

  • Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage
  • Medical payments coverage for medical bills
  • Collision coverage for car repairs and other property damage

File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

Let’s examine each of these options in more detail.

Use Your Own Insurance Coverage

It’s not ideal if the driver who caused your accident doesn’t have insurance, but there’s a good chance that some of your policy provisions can cover your costs.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage

The best option is to use your uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. This coverage pays for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage if you’re not at fault and the at-fault driver:

  • Does not have car insurance (uninsured motorist coverage)
  • Does not have enough car insurance (underinsured motorist coverage)

California law requires insurers to offer UM/UIM coverage on every car insurance policy, and if you don’t want it, you have to turn it down in writing. So, there’s a good chance you have it on your policy even if you’ve never heard of it.

How Much UM/UIM Coverage Should I Get?

California law requires minimum liability insurance coverage as follows:

  • $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident for bodily injury liability
  • $5,000 per accident for property damage liability

These coverages are usually listed like this: $15,000/$30,000/$5,000.

Your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage cannot be less than California’s minimum coverage, and it cannot be more than your own liability coverage limits.

Because the state minimum coverage is unlikely to pay your expenses in an accident with injuries (see the examples below), carrying higher liability limits and UM/UIM coverage is a good idea. Coverage limits of $100,000/$300,000/$100,000 are suitable for many drivers.

UM/UIM Insurance Examples

Suppose an uninsured driver runs a stop sign and hits your car. You have uninsured motorist coverage of $100,000/$300,000/$100,000:

  • If you or your passengers are injured, your policy will pay up to $100,000 per person but not more than $300,000 total to cover medical bills, lost wages, rehab costs, and compensation for your pain and suffering.
  • Your policy will pay up to $100,000 to repair or replace your car and any other property damaged in the accident.

Suppose the same scenario occurs with a driver who only carries California’s minimum coverage. Your underinsured motorist coverage kicks in after the at-fault driver’s liability insurance runs out:

  • If you have medical bills resulting from your injuries that total more than the at-fault driver’s coverage ($15,000), your policy will pay the difference up to your coverage limit ($100,000).
  • If it costs more than $5,000 to repair your car, the at-fault driver’s insurance won’t cover it—but your UIM policy will pay the difference up to your coverage limit ($100,000).

Medical Payments Coverage

If you don’t have UM/UIM coverage—or if it doesn’t pay for all your expenses—you can use medical payments coverage.

Medical payments (also known as MedPay) are optional coverages that pay for medical bills for you or your passengers, no matter who is at fault in an accident. If you have this coverage, it’s another option if you’re in an accident caused by an uninsured driver.

However, take note that medical payments coverage does not pay for the following:

  • Lost wages while you’re recovering from injuries
  • Your pain and suffering
  • Property damage

Collision Coverage

Collision is another optional insurance coverage that applies no matter who is at fault. If you collide with another vehicle or with a stationary object (e.g., a tree, a fence, a mailbox, or a telephone pole), this coverage pays:

  • To repair or replace your vehicle
  • To repair or replace other damaged property (e.g., a broken fence)

If you choose to use your collision coverage after an accident caused by an uninsured driver, take note that:

  • Collision coverage usually has a deductible—an amount you pay out-of-pocket before the coverage kicks in.
  • Collision does not pay for any medical expenses.

A Lawsuit Against the At-Fault Uninsured Driver

Your final option if an uninsured driver caused your car accident is to sue the at-fault driver directly. However, if the at-fault driver doesn’t have car insurance, it’s unlikely that you would be able to collect on a judgment against them.

Bakersfield Car Accident Attorneys

When another driver’s negligence causes an accident, stress levels are high enough—finding out that the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance amps up the pressure even more. You can use your UM/UIM or other insurance coverages—but you may find yourself at odds with your own insurance company. The experienced car accident lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Clark have negotiated many uninsured motorist cases, and they can help you get a fair settlement for your case, too.

For a free, no-obligation review of your case, contact us today.