North Carolina requires each person who gets a license or buys a car in the state to carry car insurance with mandated minimum coverages for bodily injuries and property damage. But what happens if you are injured by a hit-and-run driver or if you get in an accident with someone who ignored the insurance law? As I explain below, in many circumstances, you or a family member should be able to file and recover on claims for your personal injury losses.
- A North Carolina Car Accident Attorney Explains Auto Insurance Requirements
- Why You Must Carry Uninsured Motorist Coverage if You Drive in North Carolina
- Adding Up the Costs of Traffic Accidents, From Vehicle Damage to Wrongful Deaths
Explaining North Carolina’s Uninsured Motorist Coverage Law
After a traffic accident involving an unknown or hit-and-run driver, North Carolina law allows you to invoke the uninsured motorist provisions of your own car insurance policy. The uninsured motorist (UM) law is section 20-279.1 of the General Statutes. It allows an insured individual who can show actual damages to his or her motor vehicle and/or injuries from the crash “to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles and hit-and-run motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death.”
Each car insurance policy issued in North Carolina must include UM coverage provisions. In 2019, the minimum legal amount of coverage is $30,000 for a single person who suffers bodily injuries in a single accident.
UM coverage comes to the rescue of each of the following
- Insured drivers,
- Adult family members of insured drivers
- Minor children of parents or guardians who have insurance
- Passengers in vehicles being operated by insured motorists
- Individuals who operate covered vehicles
To explain who might fall into that last group, your friend’s insurance policy will cover you if you get injured by a hit-and-run driver while operating your friend’s car with your friend’s permission.
Why North Carolina Requires UM Coverage
Uninsured motorist coverage is the most misunderstood car insurance out there. Dozens of North Carolina personal injury clients ask me each year, “Why should I pay insurance for someone who is uninsured to operate on the streets of North Carolina?”
I understand why the question comes up, but I assure my clients that UM coverage protects them and their loved ones, not negligent or reckless drivers. Rather than giving a pass to insurance scofflaws and hit-and-run drivers, UM coverage gives law-abiding residents of North Carolina peace of mind and a chance for financial recovery from wrecks caused by other people.
How Invoking Uninsured Motorist Coverage Works
Believe it or not, your own insurance company steps up to handle UM claims. Your insurance takes the place of the at-fault driver’s nonexistent or inaccessible policy.
The potential drawback to this is that your own insurance company switches from, say, being a good neighbor to contesting or negotiating claims on behalf of the uninsured or hit-and-run driver. This means that an insurance company that receives an uninsured motorist claim will typically try to minimize the compensation paid.
If the claims cannot be settled and a personal injury lawsuit is filed, your own insurance company even hires a lawyer to defend the unknown or hit-and-run driver. This blows away many of my clients, but I bring them back to Earth by explaining that this is the only way to access any type of insurance when the at-fault driver has no coverage or flees the scene.
Succeeding With a UM Claim Is Not Guaranteed
You should see by now that uninsured motorist cases are among the most-complicated ones my fellow North Carolina personal injury law firm colleagues and I take on. Insurance claims adjusters demand proof of all the following:
- An uninsured or hit-and-run driver caused the wreck,
- There is property damage to a vehicle that was struck by the negligent driver,
- The wreck inflicted injuries, and
- Treating the injuries cost the crash victim money.
North Carolina is what lawyers call an “impact state.” Recovery on a UM coverage claim is only possible if evidence of a collision with property damage exists. Additionally, if the case involves a hit-and- run, some independent corroboration that the at-fault driver fled the scene must be submitted. A police report should be filed if it all possible, but this is not mandatory if the other proofs of impact can be presented.
How Much UM Coverage Is Available?
This varies from policy to policy. Again, the minimum coverage each insured driver must carry is currently $30,000, but North Carolina allows insurance companies to issue polices that provide up to $1 million for bodily injury claims.
A skilled North Carolina personal injury lawyer will attempt to maximize compensation for the injured individual by checking to see if more than one insurance policy applies. This so-called “stacking” of policies is most often done when the uninsured motorist or hit-and-run driver was operating a privately owned passenger vehicle like a car or SUV. The stacked policies can be held by the innocent driver or a passenger and family members of the injured people.
Do You Need to Care About Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
Before you think you will never need to invoke your UM coverage, consider that a report released in the summer of 2018 notes that more than 2,000 hit-and-run collisions occur in the United States each day.
My colleagues and I provide free, confidential consultations on such cases, so do not skip the opportunity to partner with a North Carolina personal injury lawyer who can help you obtain and submit the police reports, bills and medical records you need to succeed with your UM claims.
Rick Shapiro has practiced personal injury law for over two decades in Virginia, North Carolina, and throughout the Southeastern United States. He is a Board Certified Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy (ABA Accredited) and has litigated injury cases throughout the eastern United States, including wrongful death, trucking, faulty products, railroad and medical negligence claims. His success in and out of the court room is a big reason why he was named 2019 “Lawyer of the Year” in railroad law in U.S. News & World Report's Best Lawyers publication (Norfolk, VA area), and he has been named a “Best Lawyer” and “Super Lawyer” by those peer reviewed organizations for many years.