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One of the best things about being an injury lawyer is the sense of satisfaction that comes from helping a client and his or her family recover from the often crushing financial strain that accompanies a serious injury. The medical bills can be enormous and the injured person is often out of work for weeks or months. It is my job to help free families from this financial vise and I feel privileged that I have the opportunity to do such fulfilling work.

There is a sad flipside, however. Early in my career, I learned that perhaps the most unpleasant duty for an injury attorney is explaining to a seriously injured person that there is no money available to pay their medical bills or cover the income they lost as a result of the accident.

What Is An Uninsured Driver?

This situation arises most frequently in auto crash cases when the person who caused the accident was driving without a valid insurance policy. Like other states, North Carolina law requires drivers to carry liability insurance; despite these laws, as you read this, millions of people are driving our nation’s interstates and highways without valid insurance. Current estimates place the number of uninsured drivers on our roads at 15% — that’s one in every seven motorists.

Who Are These People?

A growing number of these uninsured motorists are people hit hard by the economic downturn. These are folks who can’t make ends meet and let their insurance coverage lapse.

A lot of them, however, are among the most dangerous drivers on the road — people whose licenses were revoked after convictions for offenses such as DWI and Careless & Reckless driving. According to government estimates from 2004, uninsured drivers are ten times more likely to have DWI convictions and six times more likely to have convictions for driving an unsafe vehicle.

Wayne Parsons posted an eye-opening piece yesterday outlining how serious the threat from drunk driving really is. What we often don’t hear about drunk driving is that innocent people are often victimized twice at the hands of the drunk driver. The victims suffer not only the horrific physical injuries inflicted in the crash, but they also suffer a devastating financial blow when the drunk driver is also uninsured.

How Do I Protect Myself and My Family From Uninsured Drivers?

As my friend Rick Shapiro wrote Monday in his blog, you can make sure your auto insurance includes Uninsured and Underinsured coverage. These types of coverage step in to make a financial recovery available to you if you are injured due to the negligence of a driver who has little or no insurance coverage. Since this coverage protects you, your family and your passengers, it is important that your policy provides high limits for these coverages.

In North Carolina and many other states you can also purchase Medical Payments coverage (also referred to as medpay) with your auto policy. This type of insurance is not a substitute for uninsured coverage. However, for most folks, it will help take some of the sting out of your medical bills.

What Else Is Being Done About This Problem?

Taking a page from their efforts to curb drunken driving, highway patrol and local police throughout the nation are setting up insurance checkpoints. Drivers are required to produce proof of car insurance. For those who can’t produce proof of insurance, the fines can be steep. In many communities, frustrated police and judges are ordering vehicle seizures, license suspensions, misdemeanor charges and even jail time in some circumstances.

Call Your Agent

Before you head out onto the interstates and highways this Labor Day weekend, make sure your auto policy covers you against the risk of being hit by an uninsured driver. Give your insurance agent a call. Ask whether you have Uninsured and Underinsured coverage and what the limits of the coverage are.

Here are the other posts in this ongoing series about interstate safety:

Are Double-Bottomed Semis More or Less Dangerous to You? – Devon Glass from Church Wyble, P.C. (Michigan), August 26, 2009

Who wins and loses when a Ford Focus and a fully-loaded semi-truck crash? – Steve Lombardi from The Lombardi Law Firm (Iowa), August 25, 2009

Hawaii Freeway Chronicles #1: What Are The Danger Points On H-1, H-2 and H-3?, by Wayne Parsons of Wayne Parsons Law Offices. (Hawaii), August 27, 2009

The Interstate Highway Graveyard, “Speed Kills”, Lombardi, August 28, 2009

Why Speeders on the Highway Cause More Serious Accidents, Glass, August 28, 2009

Death and Injury On Interstate Highways Increase With Higher Speed Limits, Wayne Parsons, August 29, 2009 2:31 AM

Drunk Drivers Caused 40% of Traffic Fatalities In Hawaii In 2006, Wayne Parsons, August 31, 2009 12:16 AM

Interstate Highways Are No Place For Drunk Drivers Over The Labor Day Weekend Wayne Parsons | September 01, 2009 4:36 PM

Uninsured Motorist Car Insurance: It’s Your Most Important Car Insurance and Here Is Why | September 01, 2009 10:30 AM


  1. Gravatar for Steve Lombardi

    Pierce: I can't wait to write about the subject of uninsured motorist coverage. My experience is like yours with people asking me how they will pay the bills while recuperating and then finding out the other guy doesn't have insurance and that theirs is inadequate. Many people think the concept of “full coverage” means they have unlimited coverage limits, when in fact that’s not even close to the truth. In Iowa we have one other avenue we can pursue with the drunk driver accident; we pursue dram shop claims against any bar or tavern that served the drunk driver either while drunk or to the point of intoxication. That’s a point I think I’ll cover in my post, assuming no one else beats me to it. That’s another area our readers might be interested in reading about; the differences between states that do and don’t allow dram shop claims.

  2. Gravatar for Stevie S

    Hey Pierce

    I'm also betting you enjoy collecting that large contingency fee just as much or more than ‘helping your client recover.” Perhaps also the satisfaction that "you screwed the Man!"

    Who is 'The Man,' Pierce?

    I’d like to read/hear/watch stories about the relationship that real, caring attorney’s have with their clients after the account is settled. Can you please point me to one of those?

    And Sr. Stevie

    Why am I not surprised you can't wait to regale we commoners about the practice where 'injury lawyers' (and often other specialties) invite every to their "who’s at fault party;" so as to attempt to squeeze anyone and everyone – regardless as to actual liability. Is it usually so all you 'friends of the dis-enfranchised' can be made whole? But at who's ultimate expense?

    -- As an aside Mr. Steve, I've never really like people calling me Stevie...too Fleetwood Mac'ish. So I'm feeling for ya Bro!

    Stevie S.

  3. Gravatar for Pierce Egerton

    SS: Thanks for your comment. No, really, I mean it. You give me a chance to address what I believe is a common misconception about injury claims: that most are baseless claims by people who were not really hurt.

    Yeah, I suppose that there are some frauds out there. That's true in just about any human endeavor. But I gotta tell you that day in and day out I represent folks who had real, often devastating, injuries. Most also suffered damage to their vehicles and lost time from work. Usually the hardest financial hit they take is the medical bills. For those without a health plan, the situation is even worse because they're stuck owing the sticker price for the medical services.

    It'll come as no surprise to just about anyone who's ever been in that situation that insurance companies (I guess that's who you're talking about when you say "The Man") typically aren't very cooperative. Often times the victims aren't offered enough to even cover their medical bills and lost wages. Probably the most common sentiment I hear from people who call me after an accident is, "I thought I could handle it on my own but the adjuster is treating me like I did something wrong even though it was their customer that caused the accident."

    Many people also contact me because the insurer is trying to get them to sign a settlement that only covers their medical costs for 30 or 60 days. Of course, the insurance companies know that many joint injuries (such as torn cartilage in the knee or shoulder, or damage to cervical disks) are likely to require surgery, but that it usually won't be performed within that time window.

    Heck, tears to the meniscus, ACL, rotator cuff, etc., often aren't even diagnosed until one or two months after the accident since many orthopedic doctors will exhaust conservative treatment options (such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatories and the like) before ordering expensive diagnostic tests like MRIs and CT scans.

    As for former clients, a wise man once said that you can't please everybody every time. And I suppose that adage is as true in my line of work as in any other (except maybe pathologists and undertakers).

    But the great majority of my clients express satisfaction with the work we do for them. In fact a lot of my clients come to me because of referrals from former clients.

    More importantly, many former clients have become good friends. I often get thank you cards when a case is over. And every summer it seems one or another of my former clients shows up with some home grown tomatoes or squash. It may not seem like anything special, but those relationships mean a lot to me.

    So Steve, I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the picture big insurance companies and large industries try to paint of lawyers who represent injured folks is pretty misleading. My clients don't walk away with jackpot recoveries. In fact, the deck is stacked against them. Insurance Companies and big Corporations fight tooth and nail to minimize payments to injury victims or avoid paying altogether. Those guys bring a lot more money and resources to the fight than me and my injured client. I can tell you that first hand, because I used to work for insurance companies and big corporations in injury cases.

    So yes, I do take pride in helping injured persons get out of the financial hole that so many find themselves in after being injured by someone else's negligence. I don't accept the premise that the work I do for these folks is without merit simply because it is also my livelihood. In fact, I wish everybody could have a job that means more to them than just a meal ticket.

    So again, I do appreciate your comment. Those inaccurate stereotypes are out there and your post gave me the opportunity to throw in my two cents.

  4. Gravatar for Keo Capestany

    It is almost impossible now for undocumented immigrants to get licenses. Therefore they drive without insurance. All those "patriotic" Americans that demanded that no license be given to the undocumented did not think of that unintended result. A pedestrian that does not own a car cannot have under-insured motorist coverage. If that pedestrian is hit by a car driven by an undocumented immigrant that person has no way to get compensated. Deporting the foreigner will not help.

  5. Gravatar for Devon Glass


    The one benefit to living in Michigan, and there are not many when it comes to civil justice, is the coverage we provide to everyone in terms of medical, wages, and other economic expenses that are always covered, even if the other driver didn't have insurance. Thankfully in Michigan, I am not dependent on the other driver to cover the costs of all of my medical treatment, it's all covered by my insurance company regardless of who is at fault.

    As for the high number of uninsured drivers out there, I agree that it is likely to grow over the next few years what with the economy being awful. I hope that we can make people aware that uninsured coverage is probably the most important coverage they can purchase. While it's difficult to convince people to spend more money on something they don't think will affect them, the cost of this extra insurance is ridiculously low over the year, close to $6-10 per month, and you never know who is out on the road these days. I hope we can convince a few people to take a look at these articles and decide to protect themselves from a difficult to foresee problem.

  6. Gravatar for Steve Lombardi

    Uninsured or underinsured drivers are the people who when you have a collision with them, they make your life miserably poorer. If you don't have high underinsured or uninsured auto coverage you've got a fool at the wheel.

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