The Familiar Situation:
A person gets injured in a car crash. Unfortunately, the at-fault driver turns out not to have insurance. In this economy, that circumstance occurs more and more.
So, thereafter, the person calls his insurance and makes a claim for Uninsured Motorist ("UM/UIM") coverage. This means that the insurance company basically hops in the driver seat and dictates the terms thereafter.
When the insurance company is ready, THEY make an offer. If THEIR insured doesn't like the offer, then in most cases a lawsuit has to be brought against the insurance company and some years later, if you're lucky, these matters get worked out either among lawyers in some settlement conference or by a jury.
To the insurance company, it truly is a game. A Waiting game. A game of Attrition. But, to our clients injured by an uninsured motorist, nothing about this process is a game, it's their life.
Unfortunately, the above is exactly how most attorneys are taught how to handle these matters.
Sometimes when this "Familiar Situation" occurs, it truly is the best way to handle the matter. However, every situation, like every person, is different. In the right situation there may be a better and quicker way to resolve things while allowing the correct side, yours, to dictate the pace of the resolution.
The Other Way:
Under the right circumstances, another way to handle these claims it to start by bringing a lawsuit against the uninsured driver personally.
Often times these uninsured drivers will simply ignore the lawsuit. Within 30 days of serving the lawsuit on the uninsured driver, you can move the court for a default judgment. The court will grant it if the uninsured driver has not filed an Answer. The court will then set a damages hearing. The damages hearing basically is the time for the injured driver to get up on the stand and tell the judge (without a jury) about the injuries, out of pocket expenses, extent of medical bills and treatment required. At the end of the process, which is usually somewhere between and 30 minutes and an hour, the judge will come up with a figure which will be called a judgment against the uninsured motorist.
This might seem useless since the judgment debtor is uninsured and probably broke. However, it is possible that your UIM policy may end up being on the hook for this full award without any further delay. In order for this to happen, you UIM carrier must have had sufficient advanced notice of the damages hearing, an opportunity to intervene and participate at the hearing, and sufficient policy limits to cover the award. If your UIM carrier fails to intervene, then they will have to live with the judgment awarded by the judge.
On many occasions the uninsured motorist insurance company gets these notices and fails to participate. However, even when they do intervene and participate in the hearing, the judge still knows what's going on.
The reality for the judge is that a responsible member of our community is before the court. The judge is up for retention election every four years and has no skin in the game. In practice, judges in these situation generally award more (and often much more) money than a jury would. Certainly they award more than the insurance company would pay if they were in the driver's seat. Even better, under the right circumstance, the whole matter from accident to resolution can take less than 6 months.
Each situation is different and a trained legal professional needs to examine the specific details of any particular case before mapping out an appropriate plan of action for an individual client. With the right facts a good claim may be brought under your Underinsured Motorist coverage in a timely manner.
At Anderson Hemmat & McQuinn, we are happy to sit down with you to discuss your claim and develop a strategy that will help you reach a timely recovery in your case.