By George Fleming

The percent of uninsured—or minimally insured—drivers on San Diego roads these days is staggering. What this means to you is if you are unfortunate enough to be in a traffic accident caused by one of these deadbeats, their insurance, if any, will not be of much assistance.

Generally, such drivers also have little in the way of accessible assets. As a result, guess who pays the mounting hospital bills? You do, or your health insurance. Guess who compensates you for a serious disability? No one, except the pittance in coverage benefits that might be available from the other driver. You are usually out of luck.

The information that follows addresses generalities, so these comments may, or may not, fit your specific circumstances. Do not rely on this as legal advice.

Fortunately, there is a way to protect yourself from being trapped in what potentially could be a lifelong nightmare. Automobile insurance carriers offer Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverages (U/M).

Uninsured Coverage: If the other driver who is responsible for the accident has no insurance, your carrier will pay you for the damages you are entitled to receive, but only up to the maximum limit of the U/M benefit you have purchased.

Underinsured Coverage:

If the other driver has some insurance, but not enough to fully compensate you for the damages to which you are entitled, your carrier will pay the remainder beyond the other driver’s benefits up to the maximum limit of the U/M benefit you have purchased.

For example:

Assume your damages have a value of $100,000, and the negligent driver has $15,000 in auto insurance coverage.

You have purchased coverage with

U/M benefits of $50,000 / $100,000 / $150,000.

Other driver’s contribution 15,000 15,000 15,000

Your U/M carrier will pay $35,000 $85,000 $85,000

Obviously, the higher you make your Uninsured and Underinsured benefits, the better protected you are in the case of a serious or catastrophic injury, so don’t go cheap. And don’t put it off; today may be your day. Protect yourself and those who depend on you.

Your policy usually requires you to report accidents to your insurance company as soon as reasonably practical. Give a basic, general description of the type of collision that occurred (i.e. “rear-ender”). However, if you are injured, talk to a lawyer before discussing the details of the accident and injuries with any carrier or adjuster, even the ones responding on behalf of your policy.

If it turns out that you are going to need to pursue recovery from the Uninsured and Underinsured Coverages and benefits of your own policy due to insufficient coverage available from the other driver, your carrier will step into the role of the other driver. At that point your carrier may effectively become your adversary, bent on trying to minimize or dismiss your claims and, therefore, limiting what they will have to pay you.

Note: Even if you feel you share blame for the accident, you may still be able to recover some portion of your damages caused by the accident. In California, fault can be apportioned. In many cases the percent a driver is found to be at fault is used to reduce the total damages the driver would otherwise be entitled to receive.

For example, assume you are found to be 25 percent at fault, the other driver 75 percent at fault. If your damages caused by the accident are determined to be $100,000, you would recover $100,000 less 25 percent = $75,000.

Note: You must have proof of insurance with you even if you are driving a friend’s car or a rental. Keep proof in your wallet/purse or on your smartphone.