Uninsured Motorist Coverage: Overview
Although everyone is required to drive with at least the minimum personal liability car insurance in North Carolina, unfortunately, not every driver does. However, when you are injured by another driver who does not have insurance, you are not completely out of luck. In North Carolina, all drivers are required to carry minimum liability insurance and uninsured motorist coverage.
Essentially, uninsured motorist coverage will cover you in an accident in which the at-fault driver does not carry liability insurance. Uninsured motorist insurance will cover both bodily injury and property damage. With this being said, the amount that your insurance covers will depend on your policy limits.
Who & What is Covered by My Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
Uninsured motorist coverage policies must include bodily injury and property damage. The insurance will cover the owner of the vehicle, family members, any person driving the vehicle with the owner’s permission, and all passengers. In other words, if a driver with permission is driving your vehicle and is injured in an accident caused by an uninsured driver, your uninsured motorist coverage will pay up to the policy limit for the injuries of the person driving your car.
Furthermore, in order for an individual to be able to use the applicable uninsured motorist coverage, he or she must be able to prove that they are legally entitled to damages from the uninsured at-fault driver. This is important because all defenses that are available to the uninsured driver are also available to the uninsured motorist provider (for example, the defense of contributory negligence). In other words, if you open a claim with your uninsured motorist provider, they can deny your claim if they find that you were even 1 percent at fault for the accident (also known as being contributorily negligent).
How Much Will My Uninsured Motorist Coverage Pay?
Generally speaking, your uninsured motorist coverage will mirror your liability insurance policy. In other words, your uninsured motorist coverage will pay up to the policy amount of your liability insurance. For instance, if you have a $30,000/$60,000 liability policy, which is $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident, then your uninsured motorist coverage will likely have the same limits. Therefore, if you are injured in an accident with an uninsured driver and have $40,000 in medical bills, your uninsured motorist coverage will only pay out $30,000 (the maximum per individual limit).
When Can I Use My Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
Generally speaking, you may file a claim under your uninsured motorist coverage when the cause of the accident is from an “uninsured vehicle.” In North Carolina, an uninsured vehicle is not simply a vehicle without liability insurance. An uninsured vehicle may also be a vehicle that is not insured or a vehicle that is insured but the insurance denies liability. If the insurance company for the at-fault driver has become bankrupt or if the driver of the insured vehicle is not an insured driver under the policy (for example, the at-fault driver was driving a stolen vehicle), we may also consider the vehicle as “uninsured.” Therefore, there are several different instances in which you may be able to open a claim under your uninsured motorist coverage.
Important Note: Although you may open a claim with your uninsured motorist coverage for several different reasons, please be aware that your coverage does not have to accept your claim.
What If I Was Involved in a Hit & Run?
Generally, your uninsured motorist coverage will cover (up to the policy limits) your vehicle and bodily injuries when you or those insured are involved in a hit and run. With that being said, in order to prevent fraudulent claims, North Carolina requires you to do several things before your claim can be valid. Provided below is a list of these requirements:
- The accident must be reported to law enforcement within 24 hours in order for an investigation to take place.
- The uninsured motorist provider must be notified of the claim within a reasonable time after the accident, generally within a few days of the accident.
- The accident must involve a “collision” between two vehicles.
The first two bullet points above are pretty self-explanatory: call the police after the accident and notify your insurance provider soon thereafter. The third bullet point, however, needs some examination. North Carolina has established a “No Contact Rule” for uninsured car accident claims. Essentially, this means that if your vehicle does not make contact with the hit and run vehicle (phantom vehicle), then you do not have an uninsured motorist vehicle coverage claim. In other words, your uninsured motorist provider can deny your claim. This generally arises when a vehicle is run off the road, making no contact, or when a vehicle hits an object falling off another vehicle. North Carolina courts have continued to rule that, under the facts above, uninsured motorist coverage will not be liable and can therefore be denied.
If an at-fault party’s liability insurance denies your claim, you may still open a claim with your own uninsured motorist provider. The easiest way to open a claim is to get the at-fault driver’s insurance denial in writing. By statute, North Carolina provides drivers with a right to open a claim with their own uninsured motorist coverage, as long as a letter from the at-fault driver’s insurance company denying fault can be provided.
Important Note: The right to open the claim does not necessarily mean that your uninsured motorist provider will accept the claim or cover the damages. Again, the letter only provides you with the right to open a claim. The insurance provider may still deny your claim after investigation.
In general, you will open an uninsured claim the same way you would any other accident, except that the claim is against your own insurance company. You simply call your car insurance company and provide them with the details of your accident. Be sure to state that you need to open an uninsured motorist claim, as the at-fault driver was uninsured. The insurance company will then provide you with a claim number and begin to handle your claim. There will be an investigation, collection of bills and records, negotiations, and potentially a settlement.
It is important to note that if a settlement cannot be reached, you cannot sue your insurance company, and the claim will be submitted to arbitration. Arbitration is much more informal than trial and is heard in front of an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators. The arbitrator(s) will be the one(s) who decide(s) the outcome of the case, and his or her decision is binding. In other words, you are generally stuck with the decision made by the arbitrator.
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