Motor Vehicle Accidents Information Center
Why You Need to Know About
NJ Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists
Motor vehicle accidents happen to the best of us because they are often caused by the worst of us (worst drivers, that is). Even if every driver were to somehow always operate his/her automobile with as much caution and awareness as possible, motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) would still occur. We live in the most densely packed state of the Union. When you put as many cars, motorcycles, trucks, SUV's, and other vehicles in the third smallest State the Union, something is going to happen.
Thankfully, most car crashes don't result in serious property damage or bodily injury and the participants are usually insured. What, however, if you're the victim of a motor vehicle accident, suffered serious bodily injury and:
- The other driver refused (illegally) or was unable to carry insurance?
- That other driver has a "basic" insurance policy with no bodily injury liability coverage?
- The other vehicle was stolen, thus voiding whatever insurance coverage was on it?
- The other driver has very little coverage on the vehicle - like the statutory minimum of $15,000?
- The other driver is unknown to you - a hit and run driver, or a vehicle that takes off after driving you off the road?
What then? Will your insurance company cover the costs? How do you file a claim? Will you need a lawyer? These are among the many questions and issues that come up when you've been involved in a motor vehicle accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist.
Here in New Jersey, state law requires that you carry Uninsured Motorist Coverage with the following minimum coverage amounts:
- $15,000 for injuries suffered by a single person in the accident;
- $30,000 for injuries suffered by all those injured in the accident;
- $5,000 for property damage caused by the accident.
Most of us have the good sense to protect ourselves with more of this coverage which MUST be made available to you. When shopping for auto insurance, you should NEVER buy the least expensive level of coverage. Check into how much raising the policy limits will cost you. It's usually very cheap coverage (probably much less than the cost of the primary coverage). You should ALWAYS purchase uninsured and underinsurance coverage that protects you and your loved ones for at least the same amount of protection you have in the liability portion of your policy. Why? Your recovery for damages suffered in an MVA involving an uninsured or underinsured motorist is limited to the coverage you bought as your Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage. Clearly trying to save a few extra bucks in premiums won't serve you here.
IF YOU LISTEN TO NOTHING ELSE: Remember that the Uninsured/Underinsured coverage is for YOUR benefit - and those you love - and the liability coverage is for the benefit of someone else - someone you may cause injury to. Aren't you more interested in protecting yourself and your loved ones at least as much as protecting total strangers??
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage is designed to insure YOU against losses caused by uninsured, underinsured and unknown drivers. "Unknown", you ask? Yes, unknown, more commonly referred to as "hit-and-run".
Given that the Insurance Research Council (a nonprofit organization) estimated that as of July of 2011 a full 11 percent of New Jersey drivers were driving without legally required automobile insurance coverage, understanding your rights and responsibilities under both Uninsured Motorist and Underinsured Motorist Insurance policies is essential to your best interests. And, yes, this is where having an attorney experienced in motor vehicle personal injury law comes in very handy. More on that in a bit.
Here, then, are some facts every driver should know about these types of insurance in New Jersey, especially if you've recently been involved in a motor vehicle accident in which the other driver was uninsured, underinsured or simply vanished.
- To collect underinsured or uninsured motorist benefits under an insurance policy in New Jersey you will need to prove that the other driver was more at fault than you (per the state's Comparative Negligence Law). Now, while evidence in some situations clearly establishes fault (for example, in New Jersey a driver who rear-ends another vehicle is usually held to be 100 percent at fault or "liable"), liability in other cases is not clear-cut. The gathering, review and presentation of information (evidence) are critical to your efforts for recovery of monetary compensation. An attorney experienced in personal injury litigation is ideally suited to do just that.
- Comparative negligence does mean, however, that your insurance company can reduce the amount of the settlement or recovery paid to you by the percentage you were deemed to be at fault for the evidence (again, see how a lawyer might be helpful?).
- If the other driver doesn't carry enough insurance to fully cover your damages, you must still submit your claim to his or her insurance carrier who will, once their driver is found to be at fault, and the company is properly coerced, pay damages up to the liability limits of his or her policy. If that amount is insufficient to cover the full extent of your damages, you can then, and only then, submit the unpaid amount for reimbursement under your policy's Underinsured Motorist Coverage.
- It is advisable to inform your insurance company as soon as possible that the other driver may not have had adequate insurance to cover your losses or, for that matter, any insurance at all. This will save you time later when those facts are confirmed and you need to start the claim process with your company.
- Be aware that you are not permitted to settle with the insurance company of the other driver without the authorization of your carrier.
- In order to recover damages under an uninsured or underinsured policy provisions, you will need to establish not only that the other driver was at fault (or more at fault than you) but must also prove that you suffered actual and significant bodily injury. Such insurance coverage is not likely to kick in when injuries are minor, which is another reason an attorney can probably represent your interests better than you yourself can. I know how to obtain your medical records, medical bills, objective narrative medical findings from your physicians and what questions to ask to ensure those reports from your doctor(s) adequately address those matters relevant to establishing the extent of your injuries.
Motor vehicle accidents frequently result in challenging settlement efforts which often lead to the need for litigation. Throw in the added complications of dealing with an accident involving an uninsured or underinsured motorist and you can see why your post-accident conduct and the approach you take in pursuing a claim is so critical to protecting your best interests. Remember too that even your insurance carrier wants to pay out as little as possible to you, even though you are the "insured". This is why you should consider contacting me. Personal injury recovery is all I do. I work for you. Your family. Your future. To learn your rights and responsibilities in plain English, call for a free consultation. There is no fee if there is no recovery. 888-233-1272. Or email me at Frank@FrankSmithLaw.com .
- 10 of the Most Common Causes of NJ Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Compensation for NJ Car Accident Personal Injury Claims
- How to Avoid Wrecking your NJ car Insurance Claims
- NJ Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists
- New Jersey No-Fault Insurance Explained
- Car Accident Checklist - What to do After a NJ Car Accident
- Motor Vehicle Accident Frequently Asked Questions