What happens if you are involved in a hit and run car accident or are hit by a driver that has no insurance? What if you are seriously injured in an accident and the at fault driver’s policy limits will not cover your medical bills alone?
Texas ranks 16th on the list of number of uninsured drivers. An estimated 14.1% of the motoring public in Texas do not have car insurance. According to the Insurance Research Council (IRC), there are more than 15 million licensed drivers in Texas. According to the IRC, about 2,115,000 are driving with no liability insurance at all.
Here is what you should do if you find yourself involved in a situation involving an uninsured driver or in a hit and run.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist insurance sometimes called UM/UIM insurance is required in the State of Texas. Every insurance policy has UM/UIM coverage unless coverage is rejected in writing. I strongly urge you to not reject UM/UIM coverage. Every month we are contacted by someone who was hit by an uninsured driver. If the potential client has rejected UM/UIM, there is nothing we can do to help that person. Please keep your UM/UIM.
Uninsured motorist (UM) protection applies if the at fault driver has no liability insurance. It also applies if the accident is a hit and run. In Texas, there must be contact with the uninsured vehicle for the uninsured motorist protection to apply. If there is no contact between the vehicles, then the coverage doesn’t apply. There is almost always contact between the vehicles, but every so often we get a call where the hit and run driver causes an accident but the victim was able to avoid contact with the hit and run vehicle. I personally think this is a stupid law, but that is Texas for you.
UM/UIM coverage follows the insured person, not the vehicle. What I mean is that you do not have to be in your insured vehicle for your UM/UIM coverage to apply. You could be a pedestrian and your UM/UIM coverage will protect you if you are hit by an uninsured driver. You can be in someone else’s car and your UM/UIM coverage will protect you. UM/UIM also covers your family members, individuals who drive your car with permission and all of the occupants of your own insured vehicle as well.
Here are the minimum uninsured/underinsured policy limits in Texas:
• $30,000 per person personal injury.
• $60,000 per incident personal injury.
• $25,000 property damage.
The UM/UIM bodily injury “per person” limit means that your insurance company only has to pay up to the per person limits for any one person involved in the accident. The “per incident” limit means that your insurance company is only required to pay the “per incident” limits no matter how many persons are in the accident. For example, if the minimum UM/UIM limits are in place, and there are 3 people involved in the accident, then any one person could potentially recover up to $30,000 but the 3 people together could only recover a total of $60,000 in the accident. UM/UIM coverage provides for payment of property damage up to the UM/UIM property damage limits. UM/UIM bodily injury coverage provides for payment for medical bills and prescriptions, future medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and mental anguish up to the UM/UIM bodily injury policy limits.
Underinsured motorist protection UIM applies if the at fault driver does not have enough liability insurance to cover all of the damages suffered by the other driver(s). If you are seriously injured and your medical bills and other damages exceed the insurance policy limits of the at fault driver, then you will be entitled to underinsured motorist protection. For example, if you were seriously injured and have $100,000 of medical bills, but the other driver only has $30,000 in insurance coverage, you can make an underinsured (UIM) claim with your own insurance company. Your UIM coverage will make up the difference (in our example $70,000) up to your own insurance policy limits.
If you read my 10 Myths blog post, you will know that Texas law is very unfavorable to injured clients in almost all respects. Texas has an insurance bad faith statute that, on its face, allows you to sue your own insurance company when it acts in bad faith by failing to promptly pay a valid claim. However, the Texas Supreme Court has severely limited the recourse you have against your own insurance company when they fail to pay your UM/UIM claim. The seminal case is Brainard v. Trinity Universal Ins. Co., 216 S.W.3d 809, 818 (Tex. 2006). In that case, the Texas Supreme Court held, “an insurer in Texas has no contractual duty to pay benefits [on a UIM claim] until the insured obtains a judgment establishing the liability and underinsured status of the other motorist.” This ruling has turned traditional bad faith law on its head and left Texas UM/UIM in a confused state. A good personal injury lawyer can help you navigate a UM/UIM claim in light of the Texas Supreme Court precedent in Brainard.
These are other sources of recovery when you are involved in a hit-and-run accident or an accident with an uninsured driver:
PIP (Personal Injury Protection)
PIP is “no-fault” insurance and will cover you regardless of whether you or the hit-and-run driver was at fault for the accident. In Texas, there is a mandatory $2,500.00 PIP requirement which can only be waived in writing.
In Texas, most PIP claims cover up to $2,500.00 in medical bills, lost wages (up to 80%), and certain household duties that can no longer be performed on account of the injury you have sustained. Many insurance companies also offer up to $10,000.00 or more in PIP coverage, but this must be requested.
Medical Payments (Med Pay)
Med Pay provides coverage regardless of fault in an accident. It is important to remember that med pay only covers medical bills. Lost wages are not covered under med pay. Med pay is offered in Texas.
S. Clark Harmonson of the Harmonson Law Firm wrote this article. Clark has been licensed to practice in Texas since 2003 and New Mexico since 2007. Clark has represented numerous people who have been involved in accidents with hit and runs, uninsured and underinsured motorists in Texas and New Mexico. If you have a question for Clark about an accident involving you or a loved one, please feel free to call Clark at (915) 228-4140. We represent injury victims throughout Texas and New Mexico.