What happens if you get in a car accident with an uninsured driver? — J.F.
The state of Illinois has a mandatory insurance policy for drivers. The law was passed in 1989 and took effect in 1990. If you're on an Illinois road, you're required by law to have insurance coverage.
Some drivers choose to break the law and drive without insurance.
Cory Garcia, a Collinsville resident, said the last four car accidents he has been involved in have been with uninsured drivers. All of the drivers were Illinois residents.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
"It is an epidemic," Garcia said.
The latest accident involved a car Garcia was riding in being struck by an uninsured driver on June 24 near Horseshoe Lake Road and Illinois Route 111.
No one was injured, but Garcia's 2017 Ford Fusion took damage from the uninsured motorist's blue Buick. Garcia called the police because of the extent of the damage and, he said, "I wanted her to tow her car if she didn’t have insurance because she didn’t need to be on the road."
While Garcia and the uninsured motorist waited an hour and a half for a police officer to show up at the scene of the accident, she bought insurance.
Garcia said, at first, "She tried to play it off as if she had insurance when she didn’t." The other motorist then admitted to the officer she was uninsured at the time of the crash and was issued a citation.
"I asked the officer, 'How often does (an uninsured motorist having an accident) happen?'" Garcia said. "He said, 'This happens all the time.'"
The Belleville Police Department estimated it issued 470 tickets for uninsured drivers from Jan. 1 to June 25, 2018.
Right now, Garcia's insurance is going to pick up the tab. But, if the bill is submitted to the uninsured motorist and she can't pay it, Garcia estimated he'll pay $250 to $500 out-of-pocket for the damage. He has paid out-of-pocket every time an uninsured motorist has struck him.
Garcia said, "Where is the enforcement of the law to protect people who buy insurance?"
Have uninsured motorist coverage
Rob Loehr, of Weiss Insurance in Chesterfield, Missouri, has been Garcia's insurance agent for nearly 20 years.
Of the number of uninsured motorist claims he deals with, Loehr said, "It is staggering."
If you have full coverage on your vehicle, your vehicle would be covered if it is hit by an uninsured motorist. Loehr said a claim is filed on your own insurance policy since the other driver doesn't have insurance.
"We (your insurance company) will go back and sue that other party to pay for the damages. But it creates havoc," Loehr said. "It basically, over time, will raise the premiums for all the people who have insurance coverage."
Loehr said usually the insurance company can get the insured party their deductible back, but it takes time.
"That’s another drawback for our insured," Loehr said. "They’re trying to get their vehicle repaired but they’re out their deductible."
According to Loehr, the insured driver can also lose a “claims free discount” which could cause their premium to increase upon the next renewal, even though they were not at fault.
If you only have liability insurance on your car, not full coverage, uninsured motorists are a different problem.
"Say I have a vehicle that just has liability and (an accident is) my fault, I will pay to repair your vehicle or injuries you may sustain but my vehicle would not have physical damage protection," Loehr said.
He added, "I would urge everyone who has a vehicle that is just covered under liability to carry the uninsured motorist property damage. Because it's so inexpensive." He said uninsured motorist property damage could be as low as $10 to $15 for six months of coverage.
The optional coverage of uninsured motorist property damage gives drivers physical damage protection for their car if it is hit by another party that does not have insurance.
The only catch to this coverage is you have to be able to identify the other motorist.
Loehr said, "It can’t be a hit-and-run."
Not worth suing the uninsured motorist
Dave Cates, a lawyer from the law firm of Cates Mahoney in Swansea, said the first thing the firm takes into account when considering pursuing a claim against an uninsured motorist is — Who is the uninsured motorist?
"Are there assets that can be available to the plaintiff that may be not insurance related?" Cates said. "Is the driver working for a construction company or business?"
Cates said he has observed in his practice that drivers with assets generally have insurance to protect themselves.
"One of the biggest problems we see with uninsured motorists claims is bankruptcy protections are always available to them," Cates said.
Hypothetically, if you brought a claim against someone whose only asset was a home, receive a judgment and then go to collect the asset, Cates said, "I’d declare bankruptcy and that would wipe that away but I’d get to keep my house."
Cates said, "The vast majority of the time we would tell our clients not to pursue it, provided they have uninsured or under-insured motorist coverage," which he recommends for all drivers.
Uninsured or under-insured motorist coverage on an auto policy is protection for injuries you may sustain from another party if they are uninsured or under-insured.
Send report to Illinois Department of Transportation
Jim Schneider, administrator of the Mandatory Insurance Division of Illinois Secretary of State’s office, said several things can happen if you are struck by an uninsured motorist.
First, if you are involved in a car accident, call the police.
If a police officer writes the motorist a citation for driving uninsured and if they are found guilty in court, the motorist receives a $500 fine.
The court sends that information to the Secretary of State's office.
Schneider said, "There is a 30-day driver’s license suspension for that operator. On the license plate side, there is also a suspension. But there could be reinstatement immediately for $100 and proof of insurance."
If the motorist drives with license plates that have been suspended or revoked, there is a $1,000 fine plus license plate suspension for another four months.
Schneider said the public may not be aware that individuals can submit a crash report to the Illinois Department of Transportation Accident Report Office on their own and not rely on the courts or insurance agencies. The mailing address is 3215 Executive Park Drive, Springfield, Illinois 62766, and phone number is 217-782-4516.
"(The Illinois Department of Transportation) assumes if people put insurance information on the accident report that everything is OK unless someone calls and says it's not," Schneider said. "We don’t get involved at the Secretary of State’s office unless someone was at fault over $500 dollars."
In the report, you should indicate the party at fault was uninsured and request the Secretary of State review the case for suspension under the Safety and Financial Responsibility Law.
Schneider said, "They will open up an investigation and look at three reports — one from police and one from both parties. If they can make a determination there was at-fault and damages were over $500, they will contact the at-fault party and schedule a hearing."
At the hearing, the uninsured driver will have to provide proof they paid for the other person's damages. If they can’t prove repayment, the Safety and Financial Responsibility section will suspend their driver’s license and plates until they make restitution.
Schneider said arrangements can be made to set up a payment plan.
How Illinois enforces insurance coverage
Right now, Schneider said the Secretary of State's office randomly checks Illinois drivers for insurance coverage through about 300,000 questionnaires mailed out per year.
Proof of coverage is also required when renewing driver's licenses and license plates, but that doesn't stop drivers from gaming the system.
Schneider said, "In a lot of cases, people have a fake insurance card or insurance companies mail out a card before you renew."
The state of Illinois passed a new law last year to create a database to check Illinois drivers for insurance coverage by comparing lists of registered drivers and plates with current insurance policies.
Schneider said, "Behind the scenes, there will be monitoring of vehicle insurance and database match with insurance companies, checking everybody multiple times a year."
The old system of random checks and proof of insurance at renewals will "go away," according to Schneider. He was unable to estimate when the new system would be ready or in operation.
"Car Crashes & Other Sad Stories" by Jennifer Dumas is a collection of car collision photos by Mell Kilpatrick, a news photographer from California.