You wouldn’t believe how many serious injury accidents in North Carolina take place with uninsured drivers.
One in 10 drivers across America is uninsured. Many more are insured, but only carry the bare minimum limits to cover personal injury claims arising from serious car accidents. That means as you sit in your car or truck at a typical busy intersection, where 30 other vehicles might be in a hurry to get somewhere, three have no auto insurance whatever, while another five to 15 of those 30 lack sufficient insurance to cover many accidents. These harrowing statistics make the selection of an experienced car accident injury attorney, like former insurance claims adjuster Carl Nagle, essential to all serious personal injury cases. Because Nagle & Associates only handles motor vehicle collision cases, we know how to unearth hidden coverage, how to access and collect from multiple Underinsured Motorist insurance policies, and how to reach the personal wealth and assets of an at-fault driver who fails to carry sufficient coverage to funs all medical needs and additional cash claims for pain and suffering
Basics of Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Law in North Carolina
Let’s begin with a short primer on North Carolina “Uninsured Motorist” coverage. All motorists who drive driving in the great state of North Carolina must carry auto insurance and, as also mandated by state law, such insurance must also include Uninsured Motorist Coverage.
NC residents should understand the difference between Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage and Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage. All NC auto policies must include UM coverage, but UIM coverage is always optional and must be actively added to a policy. UM coverage pays the claims of a driver who is injured by either a hit & run driver (and there must be actual contact between the hit & run vehicle and the victim’s vehicle) or a driver who carried NO insurance on their automobile. UIM coverage is additional/extra coverage that kicks and pays money benefits when the at-fault driver’s liability insurance limits are LOWER than the UIM limits on the victim’s policy. Further, North Carolina law allows “inter-policy” stacking of UIM coverage. Thus, for an accident victim who suffers severe injuries due to a car/truck/motorcycle accident, they can collect UIM benefits from the following sources – the UIM policy on the vehicle they occupied when the crash occurred AND their own car insurance policy/policies AND every auto insurance policy for any other family member (related by blood or marriage) who resided with the victim on the accident date.
Coverage limits for bodily injury claims under a UM or UIM policy are typically stated as “split limits” on the policy. Thus, under most policies, when you look at the available coverage limits to see the extent of funding available for your personal injury claim, you will see two stated limits, one for any single victim and one for the entire group of victims who assert claims arising from a single collision.
Under North Carolina’s current Financial Responsibility laws, the minimum required coverage for “bodily injury” liability and UM is merely $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident, and the “property damage” portion must include an additional $25,000 in coverage to pay for repairs/replacement of the victim’s vehicle. Much more coverage can be obtained, however, and as attorneys very experienced in the details of serious injury claims, the Nagle firm strongly urges all NC drivers to carry higher liability coverage limits, AND TO ALSO CHOOSE MUCH HIGHER UM/UIM COVERAGE (which can be added for an extremely inexpensive premium increase). After coverage is placed, drivers should diligently confirm (by reviewing the Policy Declarations page or by calling your agent or carrier) that you have the coverage that you think you have. This extra step helps to avoid any misunderstanding later and thus ensure a more prompt and adequate claims adjusting process.
Proof of Non-Insurance
Experienced personal injury attorneys know that Uninsured Motorist claims have a threshold requirement that is easily taken for granted. Even though you are the victim, it is your burden and duty under your Uninsured Motorist policy to prove that the other motorist was uninsured at the time of the accident.
In most cases, this is not a problem, because you learn of the existence or non-existence of auto insurance coverage at the scene of the accident. The other driver tells you or the responding police officer of his unfortunate lack of insurance, or no policy can be located in the glove box. Our firm also has an open access account with the North Carolina DMV and we are able to inquire directly with the DMV with a driver’s name and address to discover the name of a driver’s or vehicle owner’s insurance carrier and policy number. If no such coverage is located, we then report the UM claim for our clients. It is vital to recognize that in all UM cases, the insurance adjuster actually defends the uninsured at-fault driver and opposes the policy-holder’s injury claims. In fact, if the injury claim cannot be settled and a lawsuit must be filed against the uninsured driver, the UM carrier (your own policy) hires and pays the lawyer who opposes your claims at trial. While a policy-holder in NC does have the obligation to cooperate with their insurance carrier, if you hire an attorney to protect your interests and present all claims, the UM adjuster can only speak with you with your lawyer’s permission. Lawyers control insurance communications, build and then present the medical evidence, and block adjuster’s efforts to devalue injury claims.
It happens more than you might think. Since driving without auto insurance is a Class 1 misdemeanour in NC, desperate and misguided drivers traveling without insurance sometimes flee the scene, or drivers otherwise ill-disposed (intoxicated, outstanding warrants, worse) might run even if they are insured, which is what the UM adjuster would argue. Unfortunately, you as the injured victim just seriously banged up, will unlikely be capable of noting the license plate number in the squeal of rubber and dust as the other driver peels away.
In that horrifying scenario, here at The Nagle Law Firm we know to do everything in our power to identify that car or driver -- through eyewitnesses, diligent investigation, accessing of CCTV cameras, and cooperation with the police (who hopefully put out an APB to apprehend the soon-to-be felon. Inexperienced lawyers, not knowing better, can overlook those oh-so-crucial early moments where culprit identification can be greatly enhanced. However, in many cases, the hit and run driver escapes detection and leaves the victim with no liability insurance coverage to fund their accident and injury claims.
In a true hit and run case, the at-fault driver escapes and there is no way to locate the driver or the insurance carrier for the at-fault vehicle. Fortunately, UM coverage in North Carolina covers the personal injury claims for all victims. As noted above, UM coverage is stackable for the victim. Thus, a victim of a hit and run accident can collect for all personal injury claims by presenting UM claims against these sources – the policy for the vehicle the victim occupied when the crash occurred AND the victim’s own personal auto policy AND all other family-owned auto insurance policies in the victim’s household.
Other Sources of Liability
Sometimes the available coverage for personal injury claims under the liability policy on the at-fault vehicle AND all available UM/UIM policies is insufficient to pay all medical expenses, lost wages and cash claims for pain and suffering. Sadly, we often see victims who suffer severe and catastrophic injuries learn that the only available auto insurance coverage to fund their serious injury claims is the state minimum totalling only $30,000.00. In this situation, even where there is some insurance, you are nowhere near being made whole for all the bodily injuries, auto damage, wage losses, pain and suffering and the like that you have suffered.
At this point, inexperienced counsel may send you on your way, but not here at The Nagle Law Firm. We know that this is where the critical part of the case analysis only begins: the search for the potential defendant with “deep pockets.”
Generally, there are three places where deeper pockets may be found, so let’s touch on each.
The Careless Driver’s Personal Assets
In some cases, the careless driver himself may have sufficient personal assets to cover all or some of your damages. In that case, the UIM limits need to be promptly demanded, with the adjuster given sufficient documentation to know the entire policy limits should be diligently paid over. Once the UIM carrier tables their limits, a waiver of subrogation should be secured to make sure that the UIM carrier is not asking for their money back from the at-fault driver. If the UIM carrier will subrogate, their claims are paid back first from the at-fault driver’s personal wealth.
Before the insurance claims are settled but after all limits are on the table, negotiations must be commenced with the driver or his personal attorney to ascertain whether the driver himself is willing to pony up personally from his own deep pockets (and for married drivers, whether the marital estate will make its assets also available, oft-times a tricky situation involving esoteric distinctions of marital property law). Since everyone is resistant to paying out of their own pockets, this requires that a focused and viable threat of litigation be made and the case presentation must motivate the responsible driver to come forward with a personal money contribution to settle and resolve the victim’s injury claims.
Experienced lawyers also know to explore the doctrine of Respondeat Superior. This Latin phrase is a fancy way of saying that, if the driver was acting in the course of his or her employment (or as someone’s agent) at the time of the accident, the employer (or agency principal) will be responsible for the damages caused by the driver, even if the driver was not driving a company vehicle and/or the vehicle was uninsured.
With so many creative employment arrangements in existence these days, carefully exploring this potential source of settlement funds is critical, as the employer will likely have other insurance that kicks in or its own deep pockets. Commercial/business insurance policies often carry high insurance coverage limits, leaving plenty of available funding for the victim. Further, juries are often more generous when claims are made against large companies and/or commercial/business drivers. In serious injury cases with private drivers who lack sufficient insurance coverage, our law firm always demands that the at-fault driver identify the purpose of the journey interrupted by the collision, the name of their employer, their job description, confirmation whether they were in the scope of employment when they caused the collision, and information about additional insurance policies (i.e. umbrella coverage on a homeowners policy which often provides $1 million or more in additional coverage for injury claims).
With no or inadequate insurance, we must look beyond the driver for other possible tortfeasors, i.e., other legally responsible parties. No stone, as they say, can go unturned, because you are in a very challenging situation. Scouring the police report, investigating the accident scene, taking accident scene photos, interviewing witnesses, even sending out an accident reconstruction expert – all have to be done diligently, depending on what’s warranted under the circumstances.
This in turn can expose other potentially responsible parties: the city, county, state or private land owner for dangerous road conditions or unmarked hazards; and manufacturers and designers of faulty brakes, tires, suspension, air bag deployment, seatbelts, rollover capability (or lack thereof), etcetera, from the auto side. Indeed, any person or entity that may be even 1% at fault must be identified, investigated and brought into the liability picture to enhance the fund for settlement.
Joint and Several Liability
Fortunately for seriously-injured UM victims, NC follows the doctrine of joint and several liability as between multiple tortfeasors. This means if more than one person or business is responsible for your injuries, no matter what the fraction of responsibility is, even if only 1%, that one deep pocket can be made to pay for all of your losses.
That’s why looking for potential third-party tortfeasors is so crucial, despite it being time-consuming, expensive and tricky. And it is often here, more than any other place in the UM process, where inexperienced attorneys lose the will, lack the insight, or have insufficient resources to get the job done as thoroughly as it needs to be done. Moreover, it is in areas like this that our track record, decades in the trenches and superior resources often enable Nagle & Associates to stand apart.
Insurance Bad Faith
We wish we could say it never happens, but it does. Insurance carriers and their adjusters can be unfair, deceptive, and downright inconsiderate of your rights when it comes to UM claims. They may unreasonably dispute proof of non-insurance, stonewall payment of policy limits, fail to act diligently and honestly, and otherwise put you through the ringer.
When this happens, it is important to know that you have rights: you don’t have to take it on the chin, adding insult to injury. Insurance companies in NC can be sued for insurance bad faith for mishandling UM claims. As a former insurance adjuster and lawyer, Mr. Nagle knows the ins and outs of this entire process, enabling him to enhance your settlement and recovery when the need arises.
In the final analysis, in situations of serious injury especially, hiring experienced personal injury counsel who understands the role played by UM coverage, investigation, and claims provides you a marked advantage. Add to that diligent analysis of third party claims, as well as The Nagel Law Firm’s established reputation for obtaining substantial jury awards at trial, and it is likely to make a profound difference in the size of your ultimate personal injury recovery.
Experience, in other words, is your best protection in the arena of UM claims involving serious personal injuries.