As Virginia/Carolina injury attorneys, we are often contacted by persons injured in a hit and run and/or uninsured driver auto/car accident. The way that car insurance provides coverage in a hit-and-run or uninsured driver car accident is very misunderstood by the public. In Virginia (VA), North Carolina (NC) and many other states, a typical car insurance policy provides that if you are in a car accident and suffer personal injuries caused by a hit-and-run driver or any driver with no car insurance, that your own car insurance will provide coverage to protect you. This works in a strange way: your car insurance company provides a legal defense to the hit and run or uninsured driver, even if never located, and must pay up to the total uninsured motorist insurance coverage the policy provides (this depends on the severity of the injuries and the damages).
I have had injured clients tell me that they are not happy about having to pay money for darn uninsured motorists operating on the Virginia or Carolina roads and interstate highways? At the DMV when they get their registration card, they see this item that requires a helty uninsured motorist fee like when you cannot prove that you have a valid insurance policy. What most clients and friends I meet do not realize is that the uninsured motorist coverage on their own car insurance policy is probably the most important coverage they have. Why??
The reason that it is the most important car insurance coverage is because it provides insurance for you or your family member if you are in a collision with an uninsured motorist! What this means is that even if the person who causes your wreck is uninsured, that your own insurance company provides insurance to you, your spouse or any person in your car with you. How much insurance is available to you? It depends on the amount of your uninsured motorist coverage under your own policy and any other policies that might apply for you. If your policy calls for one hundred thousand dollars in uninsured motorist coverage, it essentially means that you can recover up to one hundred thousand dollars under your policy, even though your own insurance company may have to pay for the lawyer to represent the careless uninsured motorist, hit and run driver, etc. Also, if you are injured in a friend’s car, and the wreck is caused by an uninsured driver, a concept called "stacking" (combining) insurance may apply allowing for the total uninsured coverage to be much higher.
The uninsured motorist law is a quite complicated beast and the car insurers fight these cases big time. They hate having to pay you but they make money collecting premiums, and should have to pay valid claims irrespective of the type of coverage if the uninsured driver causes your injury. It takes an experienced injury lawyer to explain all the fine points. Be advised however that you want your uninsured motorist coverage to always be as high as your general liability insurance limits–so check your existing policy coverages. (General liability limits protect you up to the liability coverage amount if you are careless or negligent in a car accident, so be sure your uninsured motorist coverage is equal to the liability coverage amount). So, next time you get mad about uninsured motorist coverage, remember that its your most important car insurance you have.
Some states require proof of actual collision or contact between the uninsured or hit-and-run driver’s car and your "host" car. Other states do not have an actual contact or property damage requirement but all states require that there be proof and solid evidence that a hit-and-run driver caused the crash in question and if unknown, that evidence exists that the "phantom" driver fled the scene. Also, uninsured motorist/driver coverage is often found in an employer’s car insurance or truck insurance policy. In other words, sometimes clients of ours are actually working or driving a company car or truck at the time they are in an accident caused by hit-and-run, underinsured or uninsured driver. In those circumstances there are multiple possibilities of what companies must provide car insurance coverage.
Its often the worst drivers that have no valid insurance, unfortunately, as they can’t afford insurance, such as after a DUI/DWI conviction, or driving conviction for some other offense that made their rates go higher.
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About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury lawfirm (VA-NC law offices) edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, as well as the Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service to consumers. Lawyers licensed in: VA, NC, SC, WV, DC, KY, who handle car, truck, railroad, and medical negligence cases and more.