With the sole exception of New Hampshire, driving without adequate insurance is illegal throughout the United States. Even in New Hampshire—where having car insurance is not obligatory by law—drivers must still prove they have sufficient funds to meet their state’s motor vehicle financial responsibility requirements if they are involved in an “at-fault” accident.
Each state sets its insurance coverage requirements that have to be met by motorists. In every state where driving without insurance is a legal offense, doing so has various consequences, especially if an uninsured driver is involved in a car accident. The severity of these legal consequences varies from state to state, with Colorado having some of the nation’s strictest laws in place . Depending on each state’s law, the penalties for driving while uninsured may range from relatively minor to paying significant fines, facing license suspension, and even spending time in jail.
Driving a vehicle without insurance is a class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense in our state. The maximum penalties that uninsured motorists may be looking at include a fine of up to $5,000 (with a minimum of $500), the suspension of their driver’s license, 18 months in jail, 40 hours of community service, as well as four points on their license .
Car Accidents with Uninsured Drivers
Even so, a significant percentage of motorists, estimated to be about one in eight, are driving uninsured. This means that about 28 million drivers in the U.S. are uninsured! Moreover, as revealed in a recent study by the Insurance Research Council (IRC), the percentage of uninsured motorists in Colorado in 2019 was 16.3%, placing us well above the national average, which was 12.6%. Keep in mind these are different from those who are underinsured or have very low policy limits.
Car accidents happen every minute throughout the U.S., including in our state. They are one of the country’s leading causes of accidental deaths, injuries, and property damage. In 2022, Colorado lost 745 lives to traffic fatalities, accounting for the most roadway deaths in the state since 1981 and a 57% increase from just ten years ago .
Car Accidents Are Complicated Affairs
Any car accident, including seemingly minor ones, can be a complicated affair: even in best-case scenarios, with no major injury or damage occurring and with all drivers having car insurance, some form of negotiation is bound to take place with insurance companies. It is also possible that matters may end up in court.
Therefore, it is crucial to prepare against all eventualities and consider what you can do to protect yourself should you find yourself in a car accident with a driver who is uninsured.
Although driving uninsured is an offense, this does not mean that it will automatically entitle you to compensation for any injury or damage you may have suffered in the context of your accident, especially if you are found liable. Receiving payment is a civil law matter rather than a criminal law one, so you must be aware of your rights and have proper guidance on your legal options.
Consulting with an experienced car accident attorney means that you will be able to receive an assessment of your particular situation, as well as professional guidance as to your rights and options. Ross Ziev and his team at Legal Help in Colorado are here to discuss these matters with you in absolute confidence and offer you the support you need to move forward.
The Main Framework Concerning Car Accident Insurance in Colorado
The state of Colorado has a solid legal framework concerning motorist insurance requirements and car accidents. The relevant sections of the Colorado Revised Statutes provide the legal framework of the rights and obligations of vehicle operators, stipulating the minimum auto insurance coverage that all licensed motorists must have in our state, along with a number of coverage-related regulations.
Based on the currently applicable rules, all drivers in Colorado are required to purchase the following minimum amounts of liability insurance to cover bodily injury caused to another person or property damage to another’s vehicle or property:
- $25,000 for bodily injury or death to any one person in an accident;
- $50,000 for bodily injury or death to all persons in any one accident; and
- $15,000 for property damage in any one accident.
Colorado is what is commonly referred to as an “at-fault state”. This means that the party who is at fault for causing an accident will also be responsible for paying for the injuries and property damage caused. Generally speaking, their liability insurance should cover this.
Car accidents, however, often have consequences that cannot be predicted: injuries can lead to spiraling medical bills and victims often have to make significant changes to their everyday life and work routine. They also experience loss of earnings and varying levels of pain and suffering, on top of the potential damage that may be caused to their vehicle and property. In more extreme cases, car accidents may even result in the loss of life.
This is one of the reasons why insurance companies usually recommend that motorists should carry $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence in coverage for bodily injury or death.
In such situations, having to seek compensation from an at-fault driver who only has minimal insurance coverage, i.e. low policy limits compared to the damage you suffered, can be very challenging. Accordingly, things can become far more problematic if you discover that the driver who was responsible for your accident had no insurance at all!
On the one hand, it is helpful to remember that, even in such cases, you have rights and options to exercise. On the other hand, as such situations will require even more severe consideration, strategic planning, and an aggressive, calculated approach, you should prepare yourself for this type of situation. If you ever end up being the victim of a car accident involving an uninsured driver, seek professional legal advice immediately!
Planning Ahead for All Eventualities
Given that no one can predict whether or when they may have to seek compensation against an uninsured driver, motorists should consider purchasing additional, uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance (UM/UIM) coverage, rather than opting for only the minimal amounts required by law. In fact, choosing to purchase additional insurance may also prove to be, quite literally, life-saving in the devastating event of being a victim of a hit-and-run accident.
This coverage pays for the insured’s bodily injury losses caused by a hit‑and‑run driver, a driver with no automobile insurance, or a driver of an underinsured vehicle. In effect, UM/UIM coverage takes the place of the insurance the other driver should have purchased. It also protects the insured when the at‑fault driver’s vehicle is insured, but the bodily injury liability policy limits are lower than the limits of the insured’s UM/UIM coverage.
Although purchasing UM/UIM coverage is not currently obligatory in Colorado, 21 states and Washington D.C. do require uninsured motorist coverage, as this type of insurance protects drivers if they get into an accident with an uninsured driver. In practical terms, having UM/UIM insurance will generally enable you to claim the cost of medical bills, repairs, fees, and other expenses if you get into an accident with an uninsured driver, provided you are not at fault for your accident. Consequently, even though the driver responsible for the accident may not have sufficient—or any—insurance coverage to pay for your damage, you will (at least) have the opportunity to receive a payment from your own insurance company,
Although UM/UIM insurance will cover injury-related costs, it will not cover damage to your vehicle or property, so purchasing comprehensive insurance can be essential in this respect. At the same time, collision coverage may prove to be critical if you end up having to repair or replace your vehicle if it ends up being damaged or destroyed in any car accident, irrespective of who is at fault, including in situations involving uninsured drivers.
You could also purchase medical payments coverage as part of your automobile insurance package. This additional protection pays for the insured driver and passengers’ medical expenses, including copayments or deductibles. Insurers generally offer medical payments coverage at a minimum of $5,000, while you can purchase additional coverage.
Under current Colorado law, all insurers in the state must provide UM/UIM coverage in an amount equal to the policyholder’s current level of liability coverage for bodily injury. In fact, policyholders may only refuse such coverage and opt to carry a lower level of coverage if they do so in writing.
It is always tempting to only go for the minimum insurance coverage required by law, particularly bearing in mind the financial stresses we all face on a daily basis. Nevertheless, being proactive, working out a way to include additional insurance as part of your budget, and planning ahead, so as to be able to deal with difficult situations like this, can be extremely helpful.
Dealing with an Uninsured Driver in the Context of a Car Accident
Perhaps the most crucial piece of advice one can offer when it comes to being involved in any car accident is to exchange all necessary information with the parties involved, any witnesses that may be at the scene, and, most importantly, with the apparent at-fault driver. Stay as calm and focused as possible and try to get down the basics: names, addresses, contact details, details of the at-fault driver’s car insurance company, and their policy number.
In addition to the above, you must record what happened, ideally including photos of the accident scene, the surrounding area, the vehicles involved, any visible injuries you may have sustained, etc. This can be very helpful when assessing the extent of damage and injuries caused, especially if you subsequently file a car accident-related injury or property damage claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company or if you decide to file a lawsuit.
In most cases, unless the accident is minor and causes no injury or damage, you must also report it to the police and call them to the scene. Each police department has the discretion to respond to minor accident scenes where nobody appears injured. Even so, calling the police to the scene and letting them decide whether they will attend is the only way officers will adequately investigate your accident so they will file a police report. This is even more crucial if you discover that the driver who seems to have caused the accident is uninsured, so do make sure to call the police as soon as possible after the car accident.
Finding out that the at-fault driver has no insurance may feel daunting at first. You can still receive compensation for the harm you suffered, though, even if you do not have additional UM/UIM insurance coverage. In fact, there are several available options, albeit more complicated.
Depending on the particular circumstances of your case, you may choose to file a personal injury or property damage lawsuit with the aim of receiving compensation for your damages and losses directly from the at-fault driver’s personal assets. Doing so requires knowledge and expertise, plus the ability to assess the situation accurately and estimate your chances of success. A number of factors need to be taken into consideration, and a lot of formalities have to be met at a time when your first priority should be focusing on your healing.
Obviously, all the above would be better left to a seasoned professional who has experience in dealing with this type of situation, as even car accidents involving fully insured parties can be complicated and generally involve various technicalities. A specialized car accident attorney will review your case and guide you through your options and the required processes so that you can make an informed choice.
Know Your Rights
It is obviously impossible to avoid being in a car accident, even if you take all necessary measures and exercise caution. Unfortunately, such events are part of everyday life and the hard truth is that a considerable percentage of them lead to injuries and property damage that can be pretty severe.
Being careful behind the wheel and conforming with state minimum requirements for insurance coverage are two things one should never compromise on. Even if you take these essential measures, though, car accidents can have unforeseen and often devastating consequences. Considering that many motorists continue to drive without insurance means that you should seriously think about taking some proactive measures to protect yourself against all eventualities, including the purchase of additional insurance.
At the same time, doing so does not guarantee that, should you be involved in a car accident with an uninsured driver, everything will run smoothly. Insurance companies are, primarily, businesses: as such, they are not necessarily inclined to pay out claims, particularly if they are expensive. Many victims who have opted for purchasing additional insurance come to realize that they actually have to deal with various insurance adjuster delaying tactics, essentially putting them on the ‘opposite’ side with the very provider they initially trusted to look after their best interests.
Having a lawyer you can trust can be invaluable, not only in terms of knowing your rights and having professional guidance as to your options. An experienced car accident attorney can negotiate on your behalf, build a solid case and, if things come to that, fight for your rights in court, so you can receive the compensation you deserve.
Ross Ziev and his team at Legal Help in Colorado have vast experience in representing personal injury victims and negotiating claims on their behalf with insurance companies. We are familiar with insurance company tactics and are not intimidated by them.
Contact us today at (303) 351-2567, book a time for your free consultation, or visit our offices at 6795 E. Tennessee Ave. #210, Denver, CO, 80224 for a free consultation, so we can discuss your case and see how we can help you pursue your claim aggressively and successfully. You won’t have to pay us any fees until you recover your compensation.