If you have been injured in a car accident through no fault of your own, you have likely begun thinking or considering how much insurance the at-fault driver may or may not have. Insurance coverage, which is the amount of available insurance, is an essential part of determining how much, if anything, you may be entitled to recover for your accident-related injuries. As such, unless the at-fault driver is an established corporation or a wealthy individual, the amount of money that is available for your injuries may be limited to the amount of the at-fault driver’s insurance company’s coverage – if there is an insurance policy in place.
This article has been written to contemplate those situations in which the at-fault driver does not have insurance (uninsured motorist) at the time of the accident or does not possess enough insurance coverage (underinsured motorist) to adequately compensate the accident victim for their accident-related injuries.
North Carolina law requires that each driver have and continuously maintain liability insurance coverage. However, what most people don’t understand is that North Carolina law only requires that each driver maintain at least minimum limits of liability insurance. The minimum coverage limits in North Carolina are $30,000 for each bodily injury per person, but $60,000 total bodily injury for all persons in an accident. Additionally, the minimum limits for property damage are $25,000.
As you can likely imagine, given the cost of insurance coverage, most North Carolina drivers only carry minimum limits of $30,000 per person and a total of $60,000 per accident. This is known as 30/60 or “minimum limits” coverage.
It is worth noting that if the at-fault did not have insurance or if the at-fault driver is unable to be located after a hit and run, it is possible that you could be stuck filing a claim for Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage with your own car insurance. Filing a UM claim with your own car insurance will not raise your premiums. Also, if you only have minimum limits, your UM could be limited to 30/60 as well.
If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident and the at-fault driver’s insurance is a 30/60 policy, or if your UM is only 30/60, you will only be able to recover up to $30,000 from the responsible insurance company for all of your injuries. It is important to understand that the amount of insurance coverage that a driver purchases before the accident will determine how much the insurance company may be obligated to pay for your injuries, whether from the at-fault driver’s policy or your own. If your injuries and damages exceed the amount of insurance coverage purchased, whether that is 30/60 or even 250/500, you may wish to consider filing a lawsuit and suing the at-fault driver for those damages not covered by the insurance coverage.
North Carolina law provides some protection to drivers who are injured by an at-fault driver who has no insurance or limited coverage. If you have been injured in an accident and the at-fault driver has no insurance, or if the at-fault was not caught following a hit-and-run, you should consider filing your claim for damages with your own car insurance company using your Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage.
UM coverage is designed to cover you in the event of an accident with an at-fault driver that does not possess the required liability insurance. UM coverage in North Carolina covers both the accident victim’s bodily injuries and medical expenses as well as the related property damage, but only up to the UM coverage limits.
In the event that the at-fault driver’s liability policy or your UM policy does not provide enough coverage for your damages and injuries, you should likely consider reviewing all insurance coverage policies that provide you Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage.
In order to determine which insurance policies provide coverage, one must understand that UM and UIM coverage is provided to the individual named in the insurance policy and any relatives who reside with that named individual. These relatives are entitled to UM and UIM coverage regardless of whether they were in the vehicle for which the named insured purchased insurance.
An example of this would be if Peter, a 13-year-old, were riding with his Aunt May in her car. Aunt May causes a car accident by failing to stop at a red light. Peter suffers significant injuries and damages. Peter will be able to claim coverage from Aunt May’s liability policy and seek compensation from his father’s car insurance under his father’s UIM (Underinsured Motorist) policy (if there is not enough liability insurance available to cover his damages) even though he was not in his father’s car at the time of the accident.
It is important to note that there are several limitations to UM and UIM coverage in North Carolina, which you can read about in our section about understanding insurance coverage.
According to the Insurance Research Council, roughly 1 in 11 drivers in North Carolina were uninsured in 2012. If you have or will likely exhaust the available UM and UIM coverage, you should consider suing the at-fault party.
There are a variety of issues to consider when deciding whether to sue the at-fault party. These considerations range from whether you desire to sue your own family (if the at-fault driver is a family member) to if you believe you will actually gain anything from suing someone who is judgment proof.
Should you determine that there is not enough insurance coverage to pay for your injuries and damages, you may be able to seek additional compensation by suing the at-fault party. It is worth noting that most lawyers do not advise clients to sue the at-fault party immediately, because seeking compensation by filing an insurance claim can be less costly and significantly faster in many circumstances. However, if you are considering filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver because of a lack of coverage, you may want to pause and consider whether the at-fault driver is worth the cost to sue.
In many circumstances, at-fault drivers do not have sufficient property or assets available to compensate you for your injuries and damages should you win your lawsuit. As such, you can begin the process by investigating whether the at-fault party has any assets that may be collected if you do sue. You may be able to find some information online by visiting the Register of Deeds website for each county near or surrounding the at-fault party’s primary residence. You should search for real estate holdings or assets owned by the at-fault party. If you do not feel comfortable with this process, consider hiring a private investigator to conduct an asset search. These searches are fairly affordable.
While you may wish to sue the at-fault driver so that you can receive the compensation that you deserve, it is important to remember that you are likely suing the at-fault party because he or she did not purchase enough insurance in the first place. Individuals typically buy insurance coverage to protect their assets. If a driver has minimum limits, it is likely that they may have no collectible assets or no assets worth collecting.