In Alabama, if you’re injured in a motor vehicle accident by a negligent driver, there’s a strong possibility that the defendant-driver is uninsured or underinsured.
A study conducted by the Insurance Research Council revealed that 19.6% of motorists in Alabama were uninsured (though the Alabama Department of Revenue has recently reported an uninsured motorist rate of 12.9%).
How can you recover damages if the defendant is uninsured/underinsured? Consider the following.
Alabama does not require that drivers purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM). Despite the fact that such coverage is not mandatory, it’s highly recommended that you purchase UM/UIM coverage given how many drivers in the state of Alabama are uninsured or underinsured.
Suppose that you are seriously injured in a collision. You sue the defendant-driver to recover damages, but they are uninsured. You could attempt to sue them and recover against their personal assets, but they do not have sufficient assets to cover your total damages. Generally speaking, drivers who are uninsured do not have substantial personal assets.
If you have UM/UIM coverage, however, you can file a claim with your insurer to receive benefits.
Some defendant-driver’s may have a substandard insurance policy, but have assets enough to pay out damages. In such cases, you may be able to sue the defendant and obtain a lien on their assets to cover your losses. This can be a difficult process, however, so it’s typically better to be paid out by your UM/UIM policy if you have one.
Alabama law allows you to hold each co-defendant joint and severally liable for your damages, which is an enormous boon in a lawsuit against an uninsured or underinsured motorist defendant. Essentially, you can recover your damages in full against any of the defendants.
How does this play out?
Suppose that you are injured in a collision involving two other vehicles. Your total damages is $250,000. One of the drivers is uninsured, and has limited personal assets — they cannot pay out your damages in full — while the second defendant-driver has significant insurance coverage. Alabama law entitles you to recover fully against the second defendant who has the insurance policy to cover your total damages.
Injury claims in Alabama have a deadline. If you fail to bring your tort claim (against a private defendant) within two years of the date of injury, then your claim will be relinquished under the law and you will no longer be able to obtain compensation.
Given the stakes, it’s critically important that you consult with a qualified Tuscaloosa personal injury attorney as soon as possible so that your various claims can be assessed and filed in a timely manner. Your attorney will also help you negotiate with insurers, conduct discovery, bring on expert witnesses, and more.
Once you have consulted with an attorney, he or she will put your UM/UIM insurer on notice of your claims. Your attorney will also have to give your insurer notice of any intention to settle the claim with the defendant.
If you’d like to avoid extensive litigation, it’s possible to settle with the defendant for less than their maximum policy limit, then obtain UM/UIM benefits from your own insurer. Your insurer must be put on notice, of course, and if they accept the offer, they will then pay UM/UIM benefits (which will tack-on to the settlement payout). The insurer can deny the offer, however, and take your place in the lawsuit.