Uninsured and Underinsured Traffic Accidents in Virginia: A Quick Guide

If you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist, you’ll often have to go through your own insurance to pay for your damages.

If you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, you may experience difficulty in finding a way to pay for your medical and repair bills.

Generally, the solution to this problem will depend on your own insurance coverage; specifically, whether your underinsured motorist coverage will pay for your damages.

In this article, we’ll explore the basics of what happens after a traffic accident in which the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured.

Uninsured vs. Underinsured Motorists in Virginia: What’s the Difference?

People examining car body damages after car hit

While “uninsured motorist” and “underinsured motorist” may sound similar, they are incredibly different in the contexts of personal injury law.

What’s an “uninsured” motorist?

An uninsured motorist is a driver that has no insurance whatsoever.

In the event of an accident in which an uninsured motorist is found to be “at-fault,” they are liable for all personal damages and out-of-pocket expenses caused by the crash.

In Virginia, around 10% of all motorists are uninsured.

What’s an “underinsured” motorist?

On the other hand, underinsured motorists technically have insurance. It’s just that their insurance policy is not enough to cover the total cost of the crash.

Most underinsured motorists possess the minimum amount of coverage required by Virginia law (25/50/20).

However, this amount is often woefully insufficient in cases where one or both drivers needed medical attention, or where more than two cars were involved in the wreck.

For example, if a motorist carries a 25/50/20 auto insurance policy, but are found to be “at-fault” for an accident that results in $100,000 in medical bills, their insurance company will only pay up to the required limit.

In this situation, the motorist would be “underinsured,” and would be liable for the remaining bills that go above and beyond their insurance policy.

Why does this matter?

As you might expect, drivers who fail to purchase auto insurance (or who don’t carry sufficient coverage to pay your bills) also generally lack the ability to pay for the accidents they cause.

For this reason, it is highly recommended that you carry sufficient coverage to pay for your own bills in the event of an accident involving an uninsured motorist.

One Final Note: Virginia’s Uninsured Motorist Fee

As one final note before moving on, you should remember that auto insurance isn’t technically mandatory under Virginia law.

Instead, Virginia drivers can pay a $500 Uninsured Motorist Fee to the DMV to circumvent the state’s normal insurance requirements.

This is an annual fee that, effectively, allows residents to drive an uninsured vehicle on Virginia roads.

However, this fee is not a substitute for insurance, and uninsured drivers who are found to be at-fault for an accident are still liable for all costs relating to the accident.

What Happens if I’m in an Accident Involving an Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist?

Man taking pictures of a traffic accident using his phone.

A basic way of looking at an accident is to break it down into three separate parts:

  • Fault (“who caused the accident?”)
  • Insurance information (“what sources of funds are available to help pay for the accident?”)
  • Damages (“how much money is on the line?”)

Accidents involving uninsured and underinsured motorists generally center on the second point, and may stray into the third depending on the severity of the accident.

Remember, the whole point of a personal injury claim is to make you “whole” again, to pay for the damages you incurred as a result of an accident that wasn’t your fault.

For this reason, most of your options after an accident involving an uninsured or underinsured motorist will center on finding different ways to pay for your medical bills besides the other driver’s insurance.

We’ll outline three of the most common below, but you should note that this is an incredibly case-specific area of law.

Always speak with your insurance agent (or an attorney) if you are involved in an accident with considerable damages.

Option 1 – File an Underinsured Motorist Claim With Your Own Insurance

When you apply for car insurance in Virginia, even if you’re only purchasing the minimum coverage required by law, the insurance company will offer you underinsured motorist protection.

Unless you specifically decline this add-on, you should be covered in the event of a collision with an uninsured or underinsured motorist.

In such an accident, you can file a claim with your own insurance to help pay for medical or repair bills relating to the accident.

So, for example, if you are in an accident with an underinsured motorist who only has the minimum 25/50/20 policy required by law, and your medical bills add up to a total of $30,000, you could make a claim using your own underinsured motorist protection coverage for the leftover $5,000 that the other driver’s policy doesn’t cover.

This coverage (usually) also applies to any passengers you may have been carrying at the time of the accident.

Option 2 – Explore Additional Sources of Funding

In a similar fashion to Option 1, there are several other ways to pay for any medical or repair bills caused by the accident.

As two of the most common:

  • Medpay – “Medical payments insurance” coverage can help pay for any medical bills that are not covered by the other party’s insurance limits (or lack thereof).
  • Other Health Insurance – Depending on the terms of your policy (and the damages you’re claiming) you may also be able to draw funds from your health insurance policy.

Option 3 – Sue the Uninsured or Underinsured Driver

As an absolute last resort, you could choose to sue the at-fault driver for any expenses relating to the accident.

This is not a recommended course of action for a variety of reasons.

Most importantly here, lawsuits are often long, drawn-out processes that could end up costing you even more money and heartache in the long run.

Then, at the end of such a lawsuit, you may have to spend additional time and resources actually collecting the money.

For this reason, you should always think of your case from a cost-benefit perspective, and take steps to make sure that your case never devolves to the point where you have to sue the other driver personally.

Conclusion

Woman sitting next to her car after an accident with an uninsured motorist.

If you’re involved in an accident with an at-fault uninsured or underinsured driver, your personal injury case may be a bit more complicated than normal.

However, this doesn’t mean that your case is hopeless.

In fact, there are still several ways for you to receive the award you deserve.

In general, your case will revolve around three factors:

  • Fault (“who caused the accident?”)
  • Insurance information (“what sources of funds are available to help pay for the accident?”)
  • Damages (“how much money is on the line?”)

For this reason, the best way to protect yourself is to purchase sufficient insurance coverage to begin with.

If the combination of your own insurance and the other driver’s insurance still doesn’t cover your damages, you may have to try some more creative options.

In any event, it may be wise to consult with an attorney if you feel that the settlement award offered to you fails to cover the full cost of the accident.

Especially in cases where the total cost of the accident surpasses the relevant insurance policies, an attorney may be able to find a solution that gets you the justice you deserve.

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