Can Insurance Companies Go After Uninsured Drivers?

If you were involved in a car accident and the other driver was at fault but did not have auto insurance, your insurer has the legal right to seek reimbursement from them if they paid for your losses. This process of seeking reimbursement is called subrogation. From a practical standpoint, most insurers won’t invest too much time and money seeking out subrogation unless the liable driver has significant assets.

How Does Subrogation Work?

Subrogation refers to the insurer’s legal right to pursue a third party for losses they paid if another party can be held liable. In the context of a car accident in which you were not at fault, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is obligated to pay your medical bills and car repair costs. However, if the driver was uninsured, your insurance company would pay for your losses (if you purchased the right types of coverage). Your insurer would then file a subrogation claim against the uninsured driver.

Fortunately, your insurance company will handle the subrogation claim and much of it happens behind the scenes, so you won’t have to do much.

Here’s a simplified step-by-step process of how subrogation would work.

  1. If you have the right coverage, your car insurance company will pay for your losses even if the other driver was at fault.
  2. Your insurance company would then file a subrogation claim against the liable party — in this case, the uninsured driver — to recoup their losses.
  3. The uninsured driver pays the outstanding charges outlined in the subrogation claim to your insurance company.

For uninsured drivers, however, subrogation may exhaust resources for very little in return. The term “squeezing blood from a turnip” often comes to mind, as drivers who can’t afford insurance likely can’t afford to reimburse an insurance company, either.

When Does an Insurance Company Go After an Uninsured Driver?

Your insurance company can go after an uninsured driver if they were liable for the car accident but your insurer had to cover your losses — expenses that should have been paid by the other driver’s liability coverage. Insurance companies can then seek reimbursement from the uninsured liable driver when you file a first-party claim.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage pays for car damages regardless of who was responsible for the car accident — this includes an accident with an uninsured driver. If you file a car insurance claim but the uninsured driver was liable, your car insurance company may seek reimbursement from the other driver after paying for your losses.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) Coverage

UM insurance covers your property damages and injuries if you get into an accident but the liable driver is uninsured. UIM insurance functions similarly, except it covers the difference if the liable driver has insurance but does not have enough coverage to fully pay for your losses. After settling your claim, your insurance company may then seek reimbursement from the uninsured liable driver.

Medical Payments Coverage

If the other driver was at fault, their liability insurance should pay for your medical bills. Fortunately, medical payments coverage (if you have it) will pay for your medical expenses. Your insurer then has the option to file a subrogation claim against the liable driver.

Is UM or UIM Required?

Twenty-one states require drivers to have uninsured motorist insurance, while 14 require UIM. States that don't require UM and UIM coverage may still offer the option to purchase it if it's available. For example, Connecticut requires both UM and UIM coverage. Other states, like Illinois and South Carolina, only require uninsured motorist coverage.

State

UM

UIM

Connecticut

District of Columbia

 

Illinois

 

Kansas

 

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Minnesota

Missouri

 

Nebraska

New Hampshire

 

New Jersey

New York

 

North Carolina

North Dakota

Oregon

South Carolina

 

South Dakota

Vermont

Virginia

 

West Virginia

 

Wisconsin

Penalties for Driving Uninsured

Having car insurance is a legal requirement in almost every U.S. state, yet one in eight drivers drove without insurance in 2019. Often, driving uninsured will result in the following consequences:

  • Hefty fines
  • Suspended vehicle registration
  • Suspended driver’s license
  • SR-22
  • License and registration reinstatement fees
  • Mandatory community service
  • Impounded vehicle
  • Jail time

Drivers who cause an accident while driving without insurance are financially responsible for all of the damages. Additionally, allowing your insurance to lapse classifies you as a high-risk driver, which makes car insurance more costly when you buy coverage in the future.

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What To Do if You Get in an Accident With an Uninsured Driver

Drivers who get in an accident with an uninsured driver should still follow the same steps as in any other car accident

  • Call the police: Anytime you get in a car accident with injuries, you should always notify the local authorities, regardless of whether or not the other driver is insured. A police report will be useful when submitting a claim with your insurance company or showing it to a judge if you pursue legal action.
  • Don’t accept money: Since driving without insurance is illegal in most states, the uninsured driver may offer you money to avoid legal repercussions. You don’t always know the extent of your damages or injuries at the collision scene so you should avoid accepting money.
  • Gather documentation: Even though they don’t have insurance, you’ll still want to get the other driver’s contact information and car details (e.g., year, make model, and VIN). You should also note the time and location of the accident and collect the contact information from eyewitnesses.
  • Take pictures: Snap photos of all damages to your car and their car. Be sure to get a picture of the other driver’s VIN and license plate number.
  • Report the accident to your insurance company: Once you have all the information you need, let the insurance company know that you were hit by an uninsured driver. Give them details of the accident, pictures and the other driver's contact details.
  • See a doctor: Seek medical attention even if you feel fine. Injuries, like whiplash, can take days or even weeks to manifest. Plus, the sooner you go to a doctor, the more likely you will be recompensed. Waiting for several weeks can weaken the direct link between your injuries and the car accident.

Should You File a Lawsuit Against an Uninsured Driver After an Accident?

A personal injury lawyer can help you file a claim against an uninsured driver if needed — especially in scenarios with significant car damage, injury and even wrongful death. Depending on your state, there may be a statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit so you should file as soon as you can.

If the other driver was completely responsible for the accident, they might not have the assets to pay for damages, even if your claim is legitimate.

For example, a driver who cannot afford auto insurance will unlikely have the resources to pay a court settlement. The liable driver may even declare bankruptcy if they have no assets, which can eliminate any chance you have for recompensation.

Still, if the cost of your injuries exceeds your uninsured motorist coverage, you may be able to recover the difference through a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury lawyers are sometimes free to consult, so it is an option worth exploring.

FAQs

What is subrogation?

Subrogation refers to your insurer’s right to request reimbursement from the at-fault driver after an accident. In a car accident where the liable driver is uninsured, the uninsured driver would be the target for subrogation.

What happens to uninsured drivers after an accident?

Law enforcement may penalize the uninsured or underinsured driver with a fine, imprisonment and a suspended license. Subsequent offenses can result in more harsh legal consequences.

Is driving without insurance illegal?

Driving without insurance is illegal in all U.S. states except New Hampshire and Virginia. Drivers in New Hampshire must demonstrate that they have sufficient funds in the event of an at-fault accident, while Virginia drivers can pay a $500 waiver to the DMV to legally drive without insurance.

Key Takeaways

  • Subrogation is a term describing a legal right held by most insurance carriers to pursue a third party for recompensation legally.
  • In the case of a car accident with a liable driver without insurance, an insurance company can pay first-party benefits to their policyholder and then seek reimbursement from the liable driver.
  • Almost all states require liability insurance except for New Hampshire and Virginia.

Whether you are looking to buy the state's mandated minimum liability coverage or UM/UIM coverage to your policy, SmartFinancial can help match you with the right insurance company at no charge. What's more, SmartFinancial's AI-powered algorithms will sift through hundreds of policies in your area to find the one that's right for your budget. Just enter your zip code below and answer some simple questions.

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