All vehicle owners in California need to have auto insurance under state law. This is because very few of us could afford to pay the costs of an accident (that we caused) out of pocket. While paying monthly insurance premiums is a financial burden for many drivers, it is far preferable to the financial ruin that could result if individuals were personally liable for the full costs of an accident.
Understandably, coverage limits on individual policies vary based on the costs of those policies, and many California drivers carry only the minimum coverage required under state law. What does this mean for victims who are injured by those minimum-coverage drivers?
These are the minimum coverage requirements in California
All insurance policies need to provide liability coverage for bodily injury and property damage. Minimum coverage includes:
- Up to $15,000 to cover the costs of injury or death to one person (to be paid from the at-fault driver’s policy to cover someone other than the at-fault driver)
- Up to $30,000 to cover injury/death to two or more people (from the at-fault driver’s policy)
- Up to $5,000 to cover property damage to other vehicles
As you can imagine, these minimum coverage limits would likely be inadequate to cover the costs of a major accident, especially one that resulted in injury to numerous victims.
What kind of settlement offer could you expect?
If you were struck by a driver who had only the minimum coverage, the insurance company would make a settlement offer at or below the limits listed above. Even if it is clear that the costs of your injuries and property damage exceed coverage limits, the insurer may still try to settle for less than the policy limit because insurers are primarily concerned with protecting their own profits. For this and many other reasons, it is important to be represented by a skilled attorney, like those at our firm, who understands these insurance company tactics and will push back strongly against them.
Who pays additional costs above coverage limits?
The risk drivers take when they carry only minimum coverage is that they could be held personally liable for any costs that exceed policy limits. Whether this happens will depend somewhat on whether the defendant has significant enough personal assets to pursue.
As the plaintiff in a case like this, you and your attorney would need to determine if the costs of seeking and enforcing a judgement against the defendant’s personal assets would be justified by the amount you could likely collect. If the defendant has almost no assets to speak of, it is probably wiser to look for other sources of compensation (such as naming other defendants or determining if other insurance policies might provide supplemental coverage).
Contact us to discuss your full list of options
As you can see, insurance coverage is rarely as straightforward as it appears to be. The amount you can collect is dependent on the defendant’s policy limits, but it may also depend on how skilled and resourceful your lawyer is. Our firm offers decades of experience in personal injury law and would be happy to discuss your options with you. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.