California law requires all drivers to have auto insurance. Unfortunately, this does not stop some people from driving uninsured. Approximately 16% of cars on the road in California do not have insurance. Thus, if you are in an accident, there is about a 1 in 6 chance the driver who hit you will be uninsured.

Suppose an uninsured driver injures you. In that case, you could be stuck with all of the costs of the accident, including your medical bills and the property damage to your vehicle. Such expenses can be astronomical. In such a case, your best bet for receiving compensation may be your own insurance policy.

What to do if injured by an uninsured driver?

If an uninsured driver injured you, you may have questions about what to do next. Here are some steps you can take to protect your legal rights:

  • Call the police and obtain a police report
  • Photograph the vehicles involved and the damage to each
  • Photograph your injuries
  • Photograph any property damage (walls, fences, posts, guardrails)
  • Identify witnesses and record their contact information
  • Record the time and place of the accident
  • Record the license plates of the vehicles involved
  • Immediately seek treatment for your injuries
  • Keep complete records of the treatment you receive (bills, receipts, medical records)
  • Hire a proven personal injury lawyer before you contact an insurance company

If you are too injured to take photos, have someone else do it. Click here for more information about what to do in the case of a hit-and-run.

What is Uninsured/Underinsured (UM/UIM) Motorist Coverage?

UM/UIM coverage is insurance you purchase from your insurance company in case an uninsured or underinsured driver strikes you. 

Uninsured motorist coverage (UM) covers you and your passengers if a driver who doesn’t have insurance, such as a hit-and-run driver, injures you. Uninsured drivers typically have lower income and fewer assets than those with comprehensive insurance policies. As such, someone injured by an uninsured driver will likely be unable to recover their losses from the accident unless they have purchased sufficient UM insurance.

Underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) covers injuries and property damage caused by underinsured motorists. An underinsured motorist has insurance but does not have enough insurance to cover the damage they caused. Drivers often purchase the minimum amount of insurance, which is inadequate to cover the costs of serious accidents. Like uninsured motorists, underinsured motorists typically have lower incomes and fewer assets than people with comprehensive insurance policies. Therefore, they are less likely to be able to pay for the costs of the accident. As such, drivers injured by underinsured motorists will be unable to recover all their losses without sufficient UIM coverage.

UM and UIM policies are typically bundled together and collectively called ‘’UM/UIM’’ policies.

Does the law require UM/UIM coverage?

California law requires auto insurers to offer UM/UIM coverage. However, the law does not require drivers to purchase it. If you decline to buy UM/UIM coverage, you must sign a waiver that says you were offered such coverage and turned it down.

Should I purchase UM/UIM insurance?

Although not required by law, purchasing UM/UIM insurance is a good idea for almost all drivers. In a severe accident, your insurance is as important as the other driver’s insurance because the other driver may not have enough insurance to cover your damages. The minimum liability insurance requirements for California are relatively low:

  • $15,000 for the injury or death of one person
  • $30,000 for the injury or death of more than one person
  • $5,000 property damage

These numbers (represented as ”15/30/5”) are not close to enough to cover a severe accident’s costs. The medical costs alone of a serious accident can be hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, not including property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. 

California’s 15/30/5 minimum insurance requirement is low compared to other states like Maine, which requires minimum insurance of 50/100/25. Thus, California drivers are particularly vulnerable to financial liability if an underinsured driver injures them. As such, purchasing UM/UIM insurance is almost always a good idea for California drivers.

What does UM/UIM insurance cover?

UM/UIM insurance will pay for medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, property damage, funeral expenses, and other damages if an uninsured or underinsured driver injures you.

How much can I recover from my UM/UIM policy?

The amount you can recover from your UM/UIM policy depends on how much UM/UIM insurance you purchased. You can recover the total amount of your losses up to the policy limits of your UM/UIM policy. UM/UIM insurance policy limits typically equal the driver’s liability insurance policy limits. Thus, if you purchase a 50/100 liability insurance policy, you will normally be offered a matching 50/100 UM/UIM insurance policy. 

How much UM/UIM coverage should I have?

The more assets you have, the more you stand to lose in an accident. You could lose your entire savings and even your house if you are badly injured and don’t have sufficient insurance.

Medical bills from a bad accident can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. If there’s no insurance to cover these costs, then you’re responsible for them. Medical debt is one of the most common reasons people file for bankruptcy. Medical debts are typically unsecured, meaning they can be discharged through bankruptcy, but this is not always true. Some medical debts cannot be discharged and may ultimately lead to foreclosure. Although this is not common, it is possible.

Medical debt can also indirectly lead to foreclosure if you max out your credit cards and miss mortgage payments to make ends meet after a major injury. Often, people can’t work due to their injuries and are under severe financial strain.

With that said, having UM/UIM coverage equal to your net worth is a good idea. However, everybody’s financial situation is different, and discussing your situation with a professional financial advisor is best.

Do I need a lawyer to file a UM/UIM claim?

Unless the accident is very minor, it is best to have an experienced personal injury lawyer handle your UM/UIM claim.  Insurance companies take advantage of people who have no lawyer or an inexperienced lawyer. Your insurance company’s goal is not to offer you a fair settlement. They aim to settle your claim as quickly as possible for as little money as possible. 

Whether you caused the accident or not, the insurance company will do everything in its power to avoid paying.  The insurance company will try to blame the accident on you and use a variety of dirty tricks to minimize the amount they have to pay. 

Insurance companies pay more to clients of lawyers who have a proven track record of winning personal injury trials. As such, the best way to maximize your UM/UIM claim is to hire a proven lawyer who has won honors and awards for winning personal injury trials

What if I don’t have UM/UIM coverage?

Suppose the driver who injured you doesn’t have insurance, and you do not have UM/UIM coverage. In that case, you may still be able to receive compensation from other sources. For example:

Dangerous road conditions. Suppose a hazardous road condition contributed to the accident. In that case, you may be able to sue the government entity responsible for maintaining safe roads. 

Driving within the scope of employment. If the driver who injured you was driving as part of their job, you may be able to sue the company that hired them.

Drunk driver. If the driver who injured you was drunk, you may be able to sue the social host who served them.

Driving someone else’s car. If the driver who injured you was driving someone else’s car, you may be able to sue the car’s owner.

Construction site. Suppose the accident occurred at or near a construction site. In that case, you may sue the construction company if poor signage or debris contributed to the accident.

Private property. If the accident happened on private property, you may be able to sue the property owner if a dangerous condition on the property contributed to the accident.

Every case is different, and your ability to collect for your injuries will depend greatly on the facts of your case. The best thing you can do to protect your legal rights and maximize your recovery is to hire an experienced personal injury attorney immediately.

Can you sue an uninsured driver?

Yes. However, uninsured drivers often do not have the money to pay for a judgment or settlement. If the driver who injured you can’t pay, obtaining a judgment against them will not be useful. Filing a lawsuit costs money; if the person you sue doesn’t have any assets to pay you, you’ll lose all the money you spent on the lawsuit. A personal injury lawyer can advise whether the person who injured you has enough assets to pay for your injuries, wholly or partially.

Contact us today

Contact us today to schedule a complimentary strategy session. You will have the opportunity to discuss your case with one of the top personal injury lawyers in San Diego and learn legal strategies to help you achieve the result you want.

We are a small law firm. Big law firms delegate their work to less experienced attorneys. When you hire us, you will have one of the best personal injury lawyers in the city directly handling your case.


California Department of Motor Vehicles – Insurance Requirements

California Department of Insurance – 2023 Report to the Legislature & Consumer Education and Outreach Plan

Judicial Council of California – Civil Jury Instruction No. 3701. Tort Liability Asserted Against Principal – Essential Factual Elements

Judicial Council of California – Civil Jury Instruction No. 720. Permissive Use of Vehicle

Judicial Council of California – Civil Jury Instruction No. 724. Negligent Entrustment of Motor Vehicle

California Department of Insurance – Automobile Insurance Information Guide

California Legislative Information – California Insurance Code § 11580.1(b)