Perfecting an Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Claim in Illinois
Most people have uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Uninsured coverage protects you against drivers operating cars without any insurance. This is very common as the penalties for not having coverage are not that severe. Underinsured coverage protects you from drivers who have insurance, but have limits that are not high enough to pay for the injuries they cause. The minimum limits of insurance an Illinois driver must have is $20,000.00. Like people driving without insurance, accidents caused by drivers with only the minimum limits are all too common. The roads can be dangerous when dealing with these drivers because they often have little or nothing to lose. It is essential that you have coverage that protects you under the worst case scenario. Likewise, having a full understanding of what steps you must take in making an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim is very important. Failure to certain things throughout the process could lead to harsh results such as your claim being barred.
The first step one must do whether the case is one for uninsured or underinsured coverage is to demand arbitration. Arbitration is the way in which uninsured and underinsured claims are typically decided. Generally speaking, both sides (you and your insurance company) select their own arbitrator and the two of them select a “neutral” third arbitrator. Demanding arbitration has become an essential step in the process because insurance companies are increasingly writing in statute of limitation exclusions in their policies. Failure to demand arbitration within the specified period (usually 2 years) is grounds for denying your claim. It’s a harsh result which Illinois courts have determined is legal.
Another important step in the process is to make sure you cooperate with your insurance company. What does this mean? First, promptly put your insurance company on notice of the claim. Additionally, you should provide any documents they are requesting relating to the accident. Often, you are required to give the insurance company a recorded or sworn statement. When you are not represented by legal counsel, deciding what you are and are not required to give your insurance company can be quite confusing. It is often best to seek the advice of an attorney experienced in such matters if you have any questions with respect to what information you must give out. This is particularly important when the insurance company asks you to sign medical authorizations and/or loss wage forms. While there is certain information about your medical history you must provide, an insurance company is not allowed to go on a fishing expedition looking into every facet of your life from birth onward.
When dealing with an uninsured driver, there are other obligations you must meet. First, you must obtain some evidence that the driver had no insurance. This is usually done through the office of the Secretary of State. If your insurance company requires it, you must file a lawsuit against the uninsured driver to protect what is called their “subrogation” interest. This allows your insurance company to try and recover what they pay out to you from the uninsured driver. By law, if your insurance company requires that you file a lawsuit, they must pay the costs involved in filing it. Failure to file a lawsuit when it is demanded by your insurance company can also result in the denial of your claim.
When dealing with an underinsured motorist claim, you must obtain the agreement from your insurance company to accept the amount being offered by the at-fault driver’s carrier. By law, your insurance company has 30 days in which to allow you to accept what is being offered or to tender that amount. However, failure to seek this agreement from your carrier can also result in the denial of your underinsured motorist claim.
With either type of claim, there are “set-offs” or deductions that your insurance company may be entitled to. If you had a worker’s compensation claim for the car accident, there may be provisions that speak directly to that. If you were a pedestrian, you may qualify for coverage even though you weren’t driving. If you had no insurance, you may qualify if someone in your household did. I’ve attempted to provide some of the important considerations and rules with respect to pursuing underinsured and underinsured claims, but there are many, many more. It is always important to seek a free-consultation with an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney who is familiar with the traps and pitfalls in making uninsured and underinsured motorist claims.