An uninsured motorist hit me. What happens next?

December 03, 2020

Many people blatantly ignore California’s mandatory auto insurance law. About one in six California drivers has no insurance. That’s one of the highest proportions in the country. Additionally, the Golden State has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum coverage requirements in the country. Since most drivers only but the minimum, an untold number of motorists are dangerously underinsured.

High-speed intersection and freeway wrecks often cause extremely serious injuries, like serious burns, head injuries, and spine injuries. The medical bills alone from such wounds could cost several hundred thousand dollars, or even much more. If the negligent driver who caused the crash was uninsured or underinsured, paying these bills could be challenging to say the least.

A Los Angeles personal injury attorney steps in straightaway and works to make things right. No one can turn back the clock and reverse the crash. But an attorney does the next best thing. Attorneys obtain the financial compensation these individuals need to move on with their lives. As outlined below, that compensation sometimes comes from unexpected sources, especially if the at-fault driver was not adequately insured.

First Party Liability

Even if a lawyer cannot hold the negligent driver financially responsible for the wreck, legal responsibility is still essential. This portion of a legal claim is usually not a problem. Driver error causes over 95 percent of the vehicle collisions in California. Generally, this driver error involves some kind of negligence:

  • Operational: The California Vehicle Code contains thousands of traffic laws, from common ones like speeding and failure to yield, to obscure ones like exiting a private driveway without stopping and changing lanes within fifty feet of an intersection. Drivers who violate such a law and cause crashes could be legally responsible for them.
  • Environmental: This form of negligence is an offshoot of operational negligence. The duty of care requires drivers to adjust for adverse environmental conditions. For example, they must slow down when pedestrian traffic is heavy. But many drivers ignore this responsibility.
  • Behavioral: Sometimes, the negligence occurs before drivers get behind the wheel. Some examples include driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and driving while fatigued. These drivers arguably know they are impaired, yet they drive anyway and put people at risk. So, damages are often higher in behavioral negligence claims.

These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. 

In order to fully establish liability, attorneys must collect evidence. Victim/plaintiffs must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Evidence in car crash claims includes the police accident report, medical bills, and witness statements. Other evidence is usually available as well.

Third Party Liability

Frequently, the at-fault motorist is legally responsible for damages, but a third party is financially responsible.

The respondeat superior rule usually applies in Uber/Lyft crashes, taxi crashes, truck crashes, and other collisions which involve commercial operators. Employers are legally responsible for the negligence of their workers if:

  • Employee: People like truck drivers and Uber drivers are normally independent contractors for tax purposes. But since employers control them to some extent, these individuals are employees for negligence purposes.
  • Scope of Employment: California law also defines this prong quite broadly. Any act which benefits the employer in any way is usually within the scope of employment. That includes driving an empty vehicle which bears the corporate logo around town. The free advertising benefits employers.

Other employer liability theories, which often apply in assault and other intentional tort claims, include negligent hiring and negligent entrustment.

Furthermore, owners commonly loan their vehicles to family members, roommates, friends, and other individuals. This “loan” could be a one-time arrangement or an ongoing affair. In noncommercial cases, owners could be financially responsible for car crash damages in one of the following situations:

  • Negligent Entrustment: Owners who knowingly allow incompetent drivers to use their vehicles could be financially responsible for crash damages. Evidence of incompetency includes things like a safety-suspended license or driving in violation of license restrictions.
  • Permissive Use: VC 17150 holds some owners financially responsible for some wrecks even if the at-fault driver was legally competent. Financial recovery could be limited in these situations.

Enterprise rental car, U-Haul truck, and other commercial negligent entrustment claims work differently in California, because of the Graves Amendment.

UIM Claims

There are additional options. For example, most drivers have uninsured motorist coverage. So, if the driver was uninsured or underinsured and a third party liability theory is unavailable, many victims may file claims against their own policies.

Since insurance companies want to keep paying customers happy, these claims usually settle quickly and on victim-friendly terms. If the claim does not settle, it usually goes to arbitration instead of trial.Compensation is still available after an uninsured motorist crash. For a free consultation with an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney, contact the Law Office of Eslamboly Hakim. Home and hospital visits are available.

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Sharona Hakim

Sharona Eslamboly Hakim, Esq. is a successful personal injury attorney and the principal of the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim firm in Beverly Hills, California.

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