Here are some answers to common questions about automobile insurance coverage, claims, and injuries in Orange County.
Liability Coverage. Liability coverage protects you in the event you are sued for damages. There are two types of liability coverage: Bodily Injury, which will pay claims for injuries you may have caused, and Property Damage, which will pay claims for damage you may have caused to property. In both cases the insurance company will pay for the legal expense in defending you.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage. This coverage protects you when you’re in an accident and the other driver had little or no insurance. Since you cannot make a claim against the other driver’s company, you will make the claim against your own insurance company. In this situation, your insurance company is, practically speaking, acting as though it insured the other driver, and will handle your claim accordingly. Note that in this situation your relationship with your own company will be somewhat adversarial; it will try to maximize your fault for the accident, while minimizing your injury.
Collision Coverage. This coverage pays only for damage to your own vehicle. While this coverage is important to have if your vehicle has any value, it will not pay for damage to any other property; it won’t pay for damage to the other driver’s car, for injuries to the other driver, or passengers, or bystanders.
Medical Payments Coverage. This coverage pays for medical expenses that result from your accident. It applies to any injuries which arise from the accident—whether to you, your passengers, the other driver, his passengers, or to bystanders. It is much like health insurance—that is, it does not matter who was at fault.
You can file a claim with either your own insurance company or with the other driver’s company, or both. Filing a claim with your own company is more efficient and safer, and generally speaking, you should do it, even if you do not intend to collect from your company.
Your insurer owes you a high degree of loyalty, whereas the other driver’s company owes its loyalty to its own driver. The other company has a low obligation to you. Be aware, though, that a report to your own company could cause your insurance rates to increase. This is not necessarily so; insurance companies vary in this regard. On the other hand, if you look only to the other driver’s insurance carrier, you cannot expect the same care and efficiency you would get from your own insurance company.
And there can be a much bigger downside to not reporting the accident to your own carrier. Under your policy, you have a duty to give the company timely notice of an accident if you expect them to protect you. It’s a reasonable requirement: a timely investigation into the facts of the accident, including a determination of the relative fault of the parties, is of paramount importance in resolving insurance claims.
If for some reason you don’t want your insurance company involved, there may be no need to notify them. But failing to give timely notice could cause your coverage to be voided (just for this accident). This would be especially problematic in the event you are sued, since your failure to give timely notice of the accident could cause your company to claim it has been relieved of its duty to provide you a defense.
Defending lawsuits can be very expensive, so you don’t want to undergo that expense, and it doesn’t matter if you believe you were not at fault. The other driver will likely see the accident in a light different from you, and the other driver’s memory of the facts will likely be different from yours, especially when he or she has the prospect of winning money from you. Whether or not you believe you were free of fault, you need a lawyer to defend you.
If you are injured and believe you have a right to be compensated, you should not contact the other driver’s insurance company directly. Notify your own company, then hire a lawyer.
Remember: the other driver’s insurance company will do its best to minimize your injury, to gain admissions from you, and to put as much blame on you as possible. That is the claims adjuster’s job; he’s an expert at making your claim look trivial. He handles claims like yours all day long, and his job is to do his best to get away with paying you the least amount of money. Do not try to deal with the claims adjuster yourself; get a lawyer to do it for you.
Though even if you do not contact the other driver’s insurance company, a claims representative from that insurance company will almost certainly contact you, and he will try to buy you off cheap. That’s his job. He will be polite, as should you. Just politely refer him to your lawyer. And he can answer any additional questions you have about automobile insurance coverage, claims, and injuries in Orange County.