I was in an Accident, and the Other Driver Didn’t Have Insurance. What Do I Do?
One of the first things most of us are taught to do after an accident is exchange insurance information. What if the other driver or drivers involved don’t have insurance or their insurance is minimal? Unfortunately, this happens more than one would like to think. You have options, and help is available through experienced injury lawyers in Colorado.
Is Colorado an At-Fault State for Car Accidents?
You may have heard the terms no-fault or at-fault when it comes to car insurance or car accidents in certain states. Colorado follows the fault-based method of managing accidents and car insurance claims. What this means to you is that if the person that hit you is found to be at fault, the damages that result from the car accident will come from proceeds from their insurance policy.
An insurance company will pay for vehicle repair or will pay you the current value of your vehicle if your vehicle is declared a total loss. They will not pay your medical bills until after you are completely done with your medical treatment.
What if the Person that was At-Fault for the Car Accident has no Insurance or Low Insurance Limits?
In some cases, you or the person you were in an accident with will be uninsured or underinsured. Uninsured is when the person at fault for the car accident has no insurance coverage at all. Underinsured is when an individual has an insurance policy that isn’t sufficient to cover all the damages incurred in the accident. When either of these situations happens, you are going to look to your car insurance to help cover your injuries and damages. And the good news is as long as the car, truck, or motorcycle accident was not your fault, your insurance company cannot directly use the accident to raise your auto insurance rates.
Colorado also allows stacking of insurance coverage which means that if the at-fault person does not have enough insurance to compensate you for your damages, your underinsured motorist coverage stacks on top of the at-fault party’s insurance. Their insurance plus your insurance equals the total amount available to help you with your injuries from the car accident. For example, if an at-fault party only has minimum limits, which is $25,000 in Colorado, you will have their $25,000 plus your insurance limits to cover your injuries. If you also have $25,000, that means that there is $50,000 total in insurance coverage to help you recover what you lost in the crash.
It is important to keep in mind that if you agree to a settlement with the at-fault party that is less than the full policy limits of their insurance policy, your underinsured motorist coverage with either deny your claim in its entirety or offset the dollar amount of the policy that you did not receive against the limits of your policy.
Think of it this way – if the at-fault party has a $25,000 insurance policy and you have a $100,000 insurance policy, and you settle with the at-fault party for $15,000, your insurance carrier only has to offer you $90,000 in insurance coverage as opposed to the full $100,000. It is also likely that your insurance company will argue that you do not have damages exceeding $15,000 because if you did have those damages, you never would have settled for less than the full amount.
Finally, even though they are your own insurance company and you’ve probably been paying them premiums for years, insurance companies are always looking for ways to reduce the money they have to pay you. Despite the fact that if it’s your own insurance company, they have a duty of good faith and fair dealing, they may try and argue that you were partially at fault for the collision in an attempt to reduce or eliminate your chances of recovery.
Colorado follows the comparative negligence rule, meaning that you can recover damages from any party found more at fault than you were for the accident. Your damages will be reduced in proportion to the percentage of fault assigned to you, but if you are found more than 50% at fault, then you will be prevented from recovering at all. Your insurance company can make this argument even if the other person’s insurance company did not. Remember, the job of a lawyer hired by an insurance company is to make sure the insurance company pays as little as possible when it comes to compensating you for a car accident.
What are Colorado’s Minimum Car Insurance Requirements?
In Colorado, the minimum liability coverage insurance that each car should have are listed below.
- $15,000 per accident for property damage caused by the insured vehicle’s driver;
- $25,000 for bodily injury or death to any one person in an accident, and;
- $50,000 for bodily injury or death to all persons in any one accident.
This minimum standard is in place to cover costs associated with medical bills of those injured in the accident and property damage. However, if you have been injured in a crash, $25,000 does not go very far, and you are going to want to protect yourself by purchasing your own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
Your insurance agent may encourage you to waive this coverage to lower your rates, but this is a decision you will come to regret if you’re in a car accident with an underinsured or uninsured driver.
What Options Do I Have for Additional Coverage?
You can add additional coverage that can help protect you further should you get in an accident, and the minimums aren’t enough to cover the costs of the accident. This is especially important in a state like Colorado that follows the at-fault rule because if you are at fault, you are financially responsible for the damages, even if they are more than what your coverage entails. This type of coverage can include increased policy limits, often up to $250,000 per person and $500,000 total for all persons injured in a car accident, an umbrella policy proving one million or more coverage above the regular limits of your policy, and medical payments coverage that will help pay your medical bills if you are in a car accident.
You can also add comprehensive coverage, which provides a cushion for expenses related to your injuries and damage to your vehicle. Comprehensive insurance protects you against certain types of damage to your vehicle, such as falling objects (like those broken tree branches from Colorado’s Spring snow storms), fire, natural disaster, theft, or vandalism.
Collision insurance pays for damage to a vehicle from a collision with another vehicle or object or from a rollover. While not required by Colorado law, collision coverage may be required as a condition of vehicle financing.
Additionally, you can add underinsured motorist coverage. This would help you should you be in the situation you may be in now (and how you found this article) in that you were in an accident with someone whose insurance wasn’t sufficient to cover the damages incurred. Underinsured motorist coverage can help fill in the gaps between Colorado’s minimum insurance requirements and any further costs of medical bills or property damage incurred.
Medical payments coverage can be added to your car insurance policy to help you pay for the medical bills you have incurred from being injured in a car accident. Even though Colorado is an at-fault state and the at-fault party has to pay your damages, they do not have to pay your medical bills upfront. This means that you have to pay for your medical bills until you are done treating your injuries and the entire case is settled. Medical payment coverage can help you, so you don’t have to pay 100% out of pocket for all your medical bills.
What Steps Can I Take After the Accident to Protect Myself?
Gather all information, such as the driver’s name and insurance information, if they have insurance.
Seek medical attention immediately and delegate the rest of this list if you have someone with you. It is important to note that even if you don’t have immediate medical concerns, it is common to discover injuries you didn’t realize immediately due to shock or adrenaline shortly after an accident. Seeking medical attention immediately documents your injuries and tells an insurance company that you are injured.
It is imperative not to verbally assume guilt or responsibility for the accident to witnesses or the other driver. This can interrupt your ability to obtain the compensation you deserve later.
Report the accident to the proper authorities. Ensure that your version of the accident is documented with the police, not just that of the other parties involved.
Take as many photos or videos as possible of the accident scene, the area in which the accident occurred, and the vehicles involved. This can help to establish fault in the future, and not only will courts be looking at the other cars but the environmental factors such as the weather during the accident, the lighting, or the condition of the roadway.
Contact an experienced attorney. They can assist you with the necessary steps, such as communicating with insurance companies or medical facilities to ensure you do your due diligence.
What if the Other Driver Was Uninsured? Who Pays for Damages?
In some cases, the other driver won’t have insurance coverage, making it impossible to recover any damages through their insurance policy. In this case, you can consider bringing a lawsuit against them personally to recover damages. This would mean that the costs they would need to cover would come out of their pocket.
In most cases, however, the reason the uninsured driver has for not insuring their vehicle is that they can’t afford it, which means the chances of you obtaining compensation from them can be challenging. What can be done, however, is you can work with an experienced attorney and force their hand through wage garnishments or liens that can be set in place to help recover the costs that you incurred during the accident.
Why Do I Need an Attorney?
Any accident can feel overwhelming. Being involved in one where the damages are quickly mounting, and you realize they don’t have sufficient insurance can feel like a personal nightmare. It doesn’t have to. Attorneys can take away much of the stress of dealing with insurance companies and the uncertainty of the unexpected changes in your life that were caused through no fault of your own. Consult an experienced attorney with the skill set and passion for advocacy you deserve.
They can work with insurance companies on your behalf, gather evidence to build a thorough and productive case for you to recover damages, and provide professional guidance as to what to do each step of the way.