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What if the other driver is uninsured or under-insured?
Oregon law requires every driver to carry car insurance. Unfortunately some drivers ignore this law and drive without any insurance. When these drivers cause accidents they are likely to be "judgment proof." By law your own insurance policy must include coverage for these "Uninsured Motorists" (UM). Your UM coverage will compensate you for your losses in the same way that the bad driver's insurance would have done, if he had insurance. Your UM policy pays you instead of the person that hit you. You paid for this UM coverage when you purchased your insurance. Since you were not at fault in causing the accident, using UM coverage will not increase your insurance rates.
Sometimes collisions result in very severe losses that are more than the policy limits of the at fault driver's insurance policy. This means the bad driver did not carry enough insurance to cover the damage done. In these instances the bad driver's insurance company usually will offer to pay its limit (sometimes only after extended negotiations), but this policy limit will not fully compensate you for your losses. In such a case you may seek additional compensation under the "Under-Insured Motorist" (UIM) provisions of your own automobile insurance policy. For such injuries you may collect both the at fault driver's insurance policy and also part or all of the UIM benefits of your own automobile insurance policy. Such UIM benefits cover your losses that exceed the policy limits of the bad driver's insurance policy (up to the limit of your own UIM policy, after subtracting the bad driver's policy limits).
Your UM and UIM policy limits are described in your auto insurance policy. If you intend to make a UIM claim, you must have your own insurance company's "written consent" to settle for the bad driver's insurance policy limits. If you fail to obtain this written consent, you will lose your right to access your UIM coverage. If you bring a copy of your own insurance policy to your free interview, we can answer your questions regarding UM and UIM benefits.
What is a policy limit, and why should I care?
The "policy limit" is the amount of insurance available to pay your loss. In most circumstances the other side's insurance company is only required to pay losses up to its “policy limits.” Anything over the other side's policy limits will have to be paid by another insurance policy, waived by the injured person, or collected from the defendant personally. Policy limits are generally only a problem in cases with severe injuries.
Also, an insurance policy only covers the losses specified in the policy. For example, the careless person’s house insurance probably will not cover car accidents. Conversely, if someone owns dangerous property, his house insurance will pay but his car insurance will not.
The available policy limit will vary according to the individual policy and the type of insurance. Oregon law requires many types of insurance. For example, every person who owns or drives a motor vehicle must have automobile insurance. Likewise, every attorney who practices in Oregon is required to have liability insurance. Nearly every hospital will require every doctor with hospital privileges to carry liability insurance. Nearly every mortgage company will require a homeowner to carry insurance. The list goes on. Other types of insurance include commercial policies covering businesses, renter’s insurance, boater’s insurance, and various other types of malpractice insurance. Because of the wide varieties of insurance available in Oregon, virtually every personal injury case that we handle will be covered by at least one insurance policy. This means it is probable that the person who actually hurt you will not have to pay anything because their insurance will cover it. When more than one insurance policy is available, certain rules govern which policy pays first. An attorney knowledgeable in personal injury law can sort all this out.
Aren’t most of these personal injury cases just attempts to get free money from insurance companies?
The answer is a resounding "no" (big surprise, right?). Here’s how these cases usually happen: someone carelessly hurts someone else. The injured person wants her medical bills and lost wages paid, and also wants to be fairly compensated for her loss of activities and for her pain. She is only seeking to balance the scales of justice by the amount of money that will be equal to what she has lost. The other side's insurance company is a for-profit corporation, which insured the at-fault person against the risk of harming others. But once the harm occurs, the for-profit insurance company wants to pay out as little as possible and sometimes nothing at all. When that happens, the injured person must either abandon his claim and suffer his losses, or he must begin legal action. Perhaps you have heard of "frivolous lawsuits." But insurance companies often engage in "frivolous defenses" – denying liability when it is reasonably clear, denying damages that have obviously been suffered. Insurance company greed consists of keeping money that should be paid and putting those injured to the time and expense of having to file a lawsuit.
Juries determine case values. There is nothing shameful about requiring an insurance company to fairly and justly pay for injury losses. In fact, holding people accountable is good for society because it improves public safety and allows injured persons to retain their dignity by helping them get back to where they would have been had they not been injured.
Think about the things you love most in life, and think about how much money it would take for someone to buy that part of your life. Think about the struggle to complete a simple hike instead of taking overnight backpacking trips; to be unable to read for more than a few minutes instead of savoring a good book in one sitting; to be unable to use a computer for more than a few minutes because of neck pain; to be unable to ski or hunt or fish or play golf or tennis, as you once did. Think of how devastating it is for a child (and her parents) to grow old with permanent life-altering injuries. How much is enough money if these things were taken from you?
Insurance companies want a discount after the harm has been done. Why? To protect their profits. That’s not fair to injury victims who have lost a significant part of life and now have to struggle to prove how much that loss is worth. Of course insurance companies should make sure claims are legitimate and they should carefully evaluate each case. But insurance companies sometimes show corporate greed by unjustly retaining money that should have been paid out to injured people. That is why personal injury lawsuits are filed and why attorneys are necessary—they keep insurance companies honest by bringing them to account when they refuse to justly pay for the harms suffered by injury victims.
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