According to the Insurance Information Institute, 9.4% of South Carolina’s drivers are uninsured. That means that almost one of every 10 cars beside you on your work commute is likely uninsured. As alarming as that may seem, it pales in comparison to the estimated percentage of uninsured drivers in other states. For example, it’s estimated that 26.7% of the drivers in Florida are uninsured! Nationwide, it’s estimated that 14% of drivers are uninsured, so South Carolina actually ranks relatively well in this category.
Many people mistakenly believe that if they are injured by an uninsured driver, they can’t pursue an insurance claim for their personal injuries. I just had a prominent orthopedist text me about a friend of his who was injured by an uninsured driver in Columbia, South Carolina and he quipped, “any point in getting an attorney if the other driver has no insurance?” Answer – yes, indeed – if you are injured by an uninsured driver, you have the same reasons to hire a lawyer to help you as you would if you were injured by an insured driver. It’s still going to be an insurance claim and the adjuster for your insurance company will treat you the same way he’d treat a claimant making a claim against you. (In case you’re wondering, insurance companies hate paying money – to anyone!)
What is Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage in SC?
Under South Carolina law, when you purchase mandatory liability insurance coverage, you automatically purchase uninsured motorist coverage in the same amount. Therefore, if you bought the minimal limits required in South Carolina ($25,000 per individual, $50,000 for all injured individuals), you would have that same amount of coverage if you and your passengers were hurt by an uninsured driver. For example, if a mom and two of her kids were injured when an uninsured driver ran a red light, the most that any person in the car could recover under the coverage on that car would be $25,000, and the most that all three of them combined could recover would be $50,000.
I have emphasized “on that car” above because if there are multiple vehicles in the family’s household, South Carolina law allows uninsured motorist coverages to be stacked. Let’s use the same scenario above with the mom and her two children, and the reckless driver who blew through a red light. However, let’s also add the additional fact that the family had three vehicles, each with $100,000/$200,000 of coverage. In that situation, the most that any one individual could recover would be $300,000 (three times $100,000), while the cap on a recovery by all three victims would be $600,000. It is important to note that South Carolina law does not allow you to purchase uninsured motorist coverage in an amount higher than the amount of liability coverage purchased.
Hit and Run Accidents in South Carolina
Another situation where your uninsured motorist coverage could be triggered is if you are injured by a hit-and-run driver, commonly referred to by lawyers as a “John Doe” case. There are three things required for a valid John Doe claim in South Carolina. First, the accident must have been reported to the police within a reasonable time after it occurred. (Your best bet is to call the police immediately after the accident.) Second, you must not have been negligent in failing to identify the at-fault driver or car. This is a fairly easy requirement to satisfy. Third, there must have been some physical contact between your car and the at-fault vehicle, or you must be able to provide an affidavit from an eyewitness to the accident who was not the owner or driver of your car.
We often stress the importance of obtaining contact information from all witnesses at an accident scene. This is especially important when a hit-and-run accident has occurred. If these three criteria are satisfied, you can pursue a personal injury claim using your uninsured motorist coverage.
While South Carolina requires drivers to have uninsured motorist (UM) insurance coverage, it does not require underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). However, insurance companies are required to offer underinsured motorist coverage, and it’s a good idea to carry it.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage vs. Underinsured Motorist Coverage:
- Uninsured motorist coverage pays if you are injured or your property is damaged by an uninsured or a hit-and-run driver.
- Underinsured motorist insurance pays for a portion of your injuries or damages if the driver who caused the accident does not have adequate insurance to cover your total damages.
One concern many clients have had over the years is whether pursuing a UM or UIM claim will negatively impact their insurance premiums. If you are at fault and you cause an accident where someone was injured, you can rest assured that your insurance premiums are likely to increase. The same logic does not apply when you prosecute a claim based on an accident that was not your fault. Some states have laws that expressly prohibit insurance companies from increasing their policyholders’ premiums after paying uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits.
Unfortunately, South Carolina is not one of those states. Based on our experience, most South Carolina insurance carriers do not increase premiums after paying an uninsured motorist claim but there is not a 100% guarantee. What is 100% guaranteed is that your damages from an injury caused by an uninsured driver are likely to far exceed any increase in premiums even when that does occur. Obviously, the more seriously you are injured, the higher your damages, and the more crucial it is that you pursue a claim from compensation.
Get Help after an Accident with an Underinsured Driver
If you have questions about filing a car accident claim after being injured by an uninsured or an underinsured motorist in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach or anywhere in South Carolina, our experienced auto accident lawyers at Joye Law Firm can help. Contact Joye Law Firm today.