Uninsured Motor Vehicle Accidents
What happens when you're involved in a motor vehicle accident and the other driver does not have automobile liability insurance? The answer is found by looking in your own automobile insurance policy.
Uninsured motorist coverage is a standard feature in every North Carolina automobile insurance policy. It provides coverage for personal injuries and property damages sustained in an accident where the at-fault vehicle has no insurance. It is distinguishable from underinsurance motorist coverage which only applies when there is liability insurance but it is insufficient to cover the damages.
In order to establish an uninsured motorist claim, two things must be shown. First, a driver other than the insured driver must be at fault in causing the accident. Second, the at-fault driver was uninsured at the time of the accident. This is commonly proven by two documents: a letter from the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles identifying the last known insurance company for the vehicle, and a letter from the last known insurance company indicating that they did not ensure the vehicle at the time of the accident. With those two documents in hand a prima facie case of no insurance has been made.
There are a couple of nuances worth mentioning in uninsured motorist claims. Since in uninsured motorist claim is a claim against an insured's own company, it is considered a “first party claim”. As such, a claimant has a few important rights and responsibilities. One of the most important right, is the ability to demand a binding arbitration in the event that their claim cannot be successfully negotiated with their own insurance company. This avoids the requirement of filing a lawsuit in seeking a jury trial to assess damages. Moreover, as a first party claimant, the insurance company has a fiduciary duty to their insured and has an obligation to deal with them in good faith. A failure to live up to this obligation can to expose the insurance company to liability in excess of their coverage limits.
The responsibility of a person claiming benefits under their uninsured motorist coverage is to cooperate with their insurance company. This means to provide when requested a recorded statement, an examination under oath and to furnish documentation in connection with their claim. The failure to comply with this responsibility could result in a denial of benefits. There are also some special rules with regard to accidents where the at-fault vehicle cannot be identified.
North Carolina follows the "no contact rule" as it relates to uninsured motorist claims. Simply stated, if there is no contact between the at-fault vehicle and the insured vehicle, and the at-fault vehicle cannot be identified, uninsured motorist coverage does not apply.
Similarly, if there is contact between an at-fault vehicle, but the vehicle cannot be identified, then no claim can be made for damages to the vehicle. The claim for bodily injuries however can be made.
Since the uninsured motorist carrier is essentially acting as a liability insurer of the at fault driver, the relationship between the insured and insurer is inherently adversarial. As such, it is important not to assume that just because a claim is against “my insurance company”, that a damage claim will be paid without a fight.
Having firm of Price, Hargett, Petho and Anderson represent your interests in uninsured motorist claims will help assure that you receive the fair compensation you deserve. We have successfully resolved thousands of underinsured motorist claims on behalf of our clients. Contact us to learn how we can help you.