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What Does Uninsured or Underinsured Mean in a Car Accident Case?

Contra Costa County Lawyer Daniel Horowitz in suit

What is Uninsured and Underinsured Mean in a Car Accident Case?

How Many Drivers’ Are Uninsured?

If you have had a car accident it is important to know if the other driver has no insurance (uninsured) or not enough insurance to cover your injuries (underinsured).

The California Department of Insurance has published an estimate of the number of uninsured drivers in different locations.   Our office is in Contra Costa County and in 2004 about 8% of the drivers in Contra Costa County were uninsured.  That means no insurance at all.   Alameda County had 13% and Los Angeles County had a whopping 25%. In 2019 the Insurance Research Council estimated that 12.6% of all drivers in California were uninsured.   

Put differently, if you are in a car accident in Contra Costa County 1 out of 12 times your only source of compensation is your own automobile insurance.  The good news is that making an uninsured or underinsured claim on your own policy does not count against you.

As a Contra Costa County personal injury law firm, we see a high percentage of uninsured accidents but in our experience the uninsured rate has been less than 8%. (Many of our car accidents are in Walnut Creek or the 680/24 freeway area. The insurance rate may be higher in that vicinity.)

What we do see is a high rate of underinsured drivers. The $ 15,000 coverage limit is almost always below the actual value of our personal injury demands.  Underinsured drivers are "legal".  They have sufficient insurance to be in compliance with the law but not nearly enough to pay for the damage they cause.

The Law of Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Protections 

If you have insurance but the driver who caused the accident is does not have insurance you can still recover for your personal injuries. California has a statute called the Uninsured Motorist Act. It is contained in the Insurance Code at sections 11580.2-11580.5.

There is a statute of limitations for filing an uninsured motorist claim. You must file this claim within the “statute of limitations” which is two years from the date of the accident. Your policy will specifically tell you how much insurance you have when the other driver is uninsured.

If the other side has insurance but the policy is not sufficient to cover you, your own policy will have an “underinsured” provision. You get covered up to the amount of your underinsured policy limit. There is a deduction for the amount paid by the person who is at fault. (See: (Insurance Code, § 11580.2, subd. (p)(5)) So if the other side pays you $ 15,000 and your policy covers you for $ 250,000 you can only get an additional $ 235,000.

It is important to get high limits for your underinsured / uninsured coverage because the minimum limits for liability coverage in California are just $15,000 for the bodily injury or death of one person in any one accident. See: Vehicle Code section 16056(a)

Hit & Run

If you are in your car and there is a hit and run accident you can make a claim. (See: Insurance Code section 11580.2(b)).

You are under some time pressure here not due to a statute of limitations but a requirement in the law that you report the accident to the police in 24 hours and to your insurance company in 30 days. In some areas (like Oakland, California) it is hard to get a police response so filing a report can be an issue. Fortunately this is a “squeaky” rule and the case called (California State Auto. Asso. v. Blanford (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 186, 190 says that the insurance company doesn’t get out of paying you if are late in making the police report unless the insurance company can show that they were hurt by the delay.

There are many other rules and deadlines for making car accident claims.  Some people prefer to settle their own claims but be careful, when you get a call from an insurance adjuster many times they are looking to limit your recovery by gathering facts that undercut your claims for compensation.  We recommend having no contact with the other side's insurance company and only the basic contacts with your own.  Hiring a lawyer for a personal injury claim usually costs no money until you actually recover.  

We have our main office in Lafayette, California (Contra Costa County) and take cases throughout California involving serious injuries. Call us and we can provide you with the best personal injury representation or a referral to a qualified attorney in your area.