Don't assume everyone has auto insurance
In most cases, after an auto accident, parties exchange information with one another at the scene of the accident. In some cases, this is done between the parties without any police involvement, especially if there has been no injury and the property damage is minor. If someone was injured, the police may come to the scene to investigate. In that case, police officers often separate the parties from one another so they can get independent accounts of what happened.
The police officers usually will collect insurance information from each party. In many cases, that insurance information won't be shared with the parties at the scene. Instead, the officers will recommend you obtain the police report which will have all the information on it. The problem is that some police reports takes weeks, sometimes months, to be prepared and made available to the parties. This can be problematic when you are trying to get your car fixed or make a claim, and you effectively have no idea who to call because you don't have the insurance information.
Next, just because you obtain the insurance information (either at the scene or via the police report) doesn't mean the other party actually had insurance. According to the Insurance Research Council, about 15% of all California drivers are driving without insurance. Truth be told, I personally believe the number is higher but that's simply based on my unscientific anecdotal experience. In any case, don't assume the other party had insurance because there is a chance they did not.
Why don't people have insurance? Well, perhaps it costs too much and they've decided to forego the expense. In other words, they are taking the chance of driving without insurance. For some people, the cost of auto insurance is simply a financial burden. So they roll the dice and play the odds. Also, some folks don't have insurance because they forgot to pay their premium on time. In the meantime, they later find out their insurance policy had been canceled due to nonpayment of premium.
Also, perhaps the driver was engaged in fraud or deception with their company. I once had a case once where the responsible driver and his passenger decided to switch seats before the police arrived. Apparently, he wasn't supposed to be driving and he was concerned the police would catch him in the act. Well, since they changed seats and gave the insurance company false information, the insurance company later decided NOT to cover them for the accident since they had lied to the company about who was driving.
In some cases, coverage may not be available if the person was engaged in a commercial activity. For example, I had a case once where the responsible party was delivering a pizza for a local pizza restaurant. He had the pizzeria sign on his own personal vehicle. The insurance company decided not to cover him because he was engaged in a commercial activity (delivering pizzas), an commercial activities were prohibited by his policy. His insurance policy only covered him for personal use of his vehicle - not commercial use. Sometimes, insurance coverage is pulled if they find out the person driving wasn't supposed to be driving that particular car - he or she was an excluded driver on the policy.
The moral of the story is to make sure you have plenty of "uninsured motorist" coverage on your own auto policy because there is a decent chance the person who caused the accident may not have any insurance for one reason or another. Just because you are presented with "proof of insurance" at the scene of the accident doesn't actually mean the person had insurance. It's certainly a good sign, but there's no guarantee.
VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: Hi everybody, my name is Robert Mansour, and I'm a lawyer in the Los Angeles area. One of my areas of practice is personal injury, and I want to spend a couple of minutes with you this video segment talking about the importance of uninsured motorist coverage.
Uninsured motorist coverage is perhaps the single most important piece of auto policy coverage you can have on your insurance policy, and here's why. If you get involved in a car accident with another party, there is a 20 to 25 percent chance that party had no insurance, either because they forgot to pay their premium or they just don't want to pay for insurance, or they just don't believe in that, whatever the case may be.
Now technically you can go after that person in court, sue them. You have to win the lawsuit in front of a judge, or a jury, and then you get a judgment, and then you have to enforce that judgment.
Now to get a judgment, at least, now in California you're looking at a year to two years in court, and that assumes you even win. Then you have to get that judgment, and go enforce it. So you have to hire a lawyer, or a collections company to go after this person, and recover the money that you are owed.
What if you have something called uninsured motorist? That would be my preferred method because it's much faster, and that's what you're paying for. You're paying for that benefit, so you might as well use it.
If you can't get insurance from the other party, you can at, least, go to your insurance company, and recover under your UM policy, uninsured motorist. Basically, you'd be presenting your case to your insurance company rather than to the other fellow's insurance company.
The other thing that's important to note about uninsured motorist is that most cases it's equivalent to something called underinsured motorist. That means the other party has insurance, but it's not enough.
Let's say, the other party has $15,000 of insurance which is the minimum currently required in California, and your injuries happen to exceed $15,000. Well, in that case you can turn to your insurance company for the excess, but here's the thing. If you only have $15,000 of uninsured motorist, and you recovered 15 from the other party they negate one another because your insurance company gets credit for whatever you were able to get from the other party.
In the first example, they have zero so you can get up to 15 from yours, but in the second example they had 15, so you better have more than 15 on your side of the equation, and that's why I always tell people get as much as you can.
Let's say you have $30,000 of UM coverage. That means you can recover an additional $15,000 from your own insurance company. Let's say you have $100,000 of uninsured motorist coverage, or under insured motorist coverage, that means you can recover an additional $85,000 because you got $15,000.00 from the other party, you have a $100,000 policy. Your insurance company gets a credit of $15,000 because you were able to get that from the other side, and therefore you have $85,000 available to you.
Again, of course, you have to assume that your case is worth well over $15,000 for any of this to apply, but it's a very important piece of insurance coverage that you should have.
Some people think they have it, but they actually don't. People tell me all the time, "Oh, I have full coverage." I say, "Well, do you have UM coverage?" They look at me, and say, "Well, I don't know what that is."
So make sure you review that with your insurance policy broker, or your insurance agent, or your insurance company. Take a look at something called your declarations page. That will list all the different insurance that you have. You want to make sure that you have this thing called uninsured motorist, and try to get more than 15 if you can afford it.
Thank you very much for watching. This has been Robert Mansour broadcasting from Los Angeles. Thanks again.
Call our office at (661) 414-7100 for help with your personal injury case. Robert Mansour serves Santa Clarita, Valencia, Newhall, Canyon Country, Castaic, Stevenson Ranch, and surrounding communtieis.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,