If you are in an accident with an uninsured driver, your insurance should treat you fairly. What can you do to ensure that you are covered, even if the other person is not?
It is illegal to drive in South Dakota without car insurance, but getting into a collision with an uninsured driver is still quite common. Or, a driver’s identity may never be ascertained because they drive away or neglect to stop after a collision. In all of these cases, the uninsured motorist coverage you bought with your auto policy is the key to you and your passengers being compensated for injuries and related losses.
What is Uninsured Motorist Insurance?
South Dakota law requires car insurance companies to provide uninsured motorist coverage to policyholders along with liability insurance – on every automobile insurance policy. That coverage is intended to protect you when you are hurt in a collision with someone who is not insured, or when you are hurt by a driver in a hit-and-run situation.
Typically, the uninsured coverage on your auto policy is the same amount as the liability insurance you buy; if you buy $100,000 of liabilty insurance, you also have $100,000 of uninsured motorist coverage. The premiums on uninsured motorist coverage are usually quite low, and the dollars you pay for that “first party” coverage can be the best insurance dollars you will ever spend.
Fortunately, South Dakota has one of the lowest percentages of drivers who do not have insurance, but getting into an accident with an uninsured driver is still a risk that you should protect yourself against. When you have a valid legal claim for damages against a motor vehicle driver but he or she cannot be identified or has no insurance coverage, you can turn to your uninsured motorist coverage. You have the right to have your insurance company step in to provide coverage for the other driver for your benefit.
Getting the Help You Paid For After an Accident with an Uninsured Driver
Though uninsured motorist coverage is triggered by an uninsured driver’s carelessness, the coverage is for your benefit. Because that coverage is provided by your own insurance company under a policy you paid for, the insurance company is not entitled to treat you as an adversary. So, while uninsured motorist insurance essentially provides coverage for liability of the uninsured driver who hurt you, you have the right to be treated fairly by your own insurance company when you make a claim for policy benefits.
Unfortunately, some companies seem to forget that they belong on the side of their own policyholders when dealing with uninsured motorist claims. Your insurance company should be up-front about telling you what coverage you have and should make it reasonably easy for you to use that coverage. Your insurance company should act promptly to investigate your claim, and should not ignore your injuries or minimize the value of your damages by making you a low-ball offer of uninsured motorist benefits.
Too many companies handle uninsured motorist claims as if they really were liability claims on which they were defending the other driver. They treat their own injured policyholder with unfounded suspicion and put more effort into trying to disprove or devalue your claim than into understanding your injuries, appreciating the significance of your damages, and respecting your need for fair compensation.
When your insurance company seems to be engaging in those or other questionable practices, a South Dakota car accident lawyer can help. First, the lawyer can help you understand what duties your company owes you under your policy, which is a binding legal contract. Second, if your company isn’t doing what it is obliged to do, the right lawyer can help you get the benefits you deserve by standing up to adjusters and insurers who may be trying to settle your claim for as little as possible.
Uninsured Accidents and Bad Faith Practices of Insurance Companies
The way an insurance company handles a claim for uninsured motorist benefits might also trigger a claim for the insurance company’s “bad faith.” The basic argument of a bad faith claim is simple: you paid for insurance, and your insurance company should provide you the coverage you bought. Failure to provide coverage without a legitimate reason or refusal to pay the benefits due to you can sometimes mean your insurance company is engaging in “bad faith.”
Insurance companies have a legal duty to act in good faith toward their policyholders. They have to respect a customer’s rights under the policy purchased. They are expected to be honest and forthcoming about coverage, how and when it applies, and whether there are exclusions. They have a duty to thoroughly, fairly, and promptly investigate and process a claim, and they are required to look for reasons to pay the claim, not just reasons to deny it. They must give a policyholder’s interests equal weight when compared to the company’s own interests.
If your insurance company violates these duties of good faith in response to your claim, you have a “bad faith” claim and may be entitled to monetary damages for the insurance company’s bad conduct, in addition to the policy benefits the company owed you in the first place.
Bad faith claims are important in part because of the uneven negotiating power that a policyholder has against a much more experienced insurance company. A South Dakota car accident attorney can help level the playing field on your behalf. Call the Turbak Law Office at 605-886-8361 for more information.