There are few more dreaded words from a fellow driver after a car accident than “I don’t have insurance.” That means you can be left with hefty out-of-pocket expenses, from health insurance deductibles and medical expenses, to vehicle repairs.
When it comes to financial responsibility arising from car crashes, New Mexico has a fault-based system. In other words, the person at fault for the accident is also responsible for paying for the harm caused, whether that’s against physical property (the other person’s car, for example) or personal injuries. With that in mind, New Mexico also requires its drivers to carry liability car insurance coverage. This coverage is meant to pay the medical bills, property damage bills, and other costs of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians who may be injured during a crash. There are several minimums in place for this coverage:
- $25,000 liability coverage for bodily injury or death of one person in an accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle
- $50,000 liability coverage for total bodily injury or death liability in an accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle
- $10,000 liability coverage for property damage per accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle.
Keep in mind that these are the minimums, and it’s wise to buy liability insurance greater than these values, even up to your net worth, so that your insurance covers damages instead of having to pay them out yourself.
Regardless of these requirements, many drivers in New Mexico don’t have insurance. According to the Insurance Research Council, 21.8% of New Mexicans are uninsured motorists. That places the state fourth in the nation for uninsured motorists and well above the national average of 12.6%. With nearly one in four drivers in the state uninsured, you’re likely to encounter one. You won’t be able to control whether the person who rear-ends you in a parking lot or drifts into the wrong lane of traffic on N.M. 550 has insurance or not.
What to do After an Accident with an Uninsured Motorist
If you happen to be in a traffic accident with an uninsured motorist, follow these steps:
1. Contact the police. As with any accident, you should contact the police immediately following the incident. This is even more important when dealing with an uninsured motorist because you’ll need a police record and accident report to aid in the claims process and get your expenses covered by your own insurance company.
2. Don’t accept money on the scene. Since the other motorist doesn’t have insurance, they could face ticketing and fines from the police, as well as other legal repercussions. They may offer you money up front or request you handle repairs privately to avoid these fees. However, without further investigation, you don’t have any idea what will cover your expenses. Don’t settle, even if an offer seems fair in the moment.
3. Document the scene. Smartphones to the rescue! Taking pictures and taking notes about the circumstances of the accident will help you file a claim with your insurance company. After taking pictures, you’ll also want to note who was driving each vehicle, the events leading up to the accident, how fast you were traveling, current road conditions, and any suspected distractions, such as texting, talking on the phone, or other forms of impairment.
4. Exchange information. The police will gather the other driver’s personal and vehicle information; however, if you have any trouble accessing the police report or encounter delays, you’ll need this information, too. Some insurance companies have apps that allow you to document this information within the app and immediately file a claim. Be sure to have a record of:
- The driver’s name and any passengers’ names
- The license plate number of the other vehicle or vehicles
- The other driver(s) license number(s) and the state(s) in which it was issued
- The makes and models of all vehicles involved
- Contact information of eyewitnesses
- The location of the accident
- The name and badge number of the responding police officers
5. Contact your insurer. Reach out to your insurance company immediately after the accident and begin the process of filing a claim. Next steps will depend on the amount of damage to the vehicles and your policy’s coverage. Keep in mind that liability coverage only covers the other driver. You’ll also need collision insurance to cover your own property. Often these types of coverage are bundled into one comprehensive policy.
6. Seek medical attention. Even if the crash is not severe enough that you need emergency medical treatment, it’s wise to see your general practice doctor within 48 hours of the accident to ensure you’re alright—and document any injuries if you aren’t.
7. Consider hiring an attorney. A skilled legal representative can help you pursue criminal proceedings and recoup any expenses that your insurance company doesn’t cover.
Consider Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Because uninsured motorists are fairly common, particularly in New Mexico, you may want to purchase additional coverage to alleviate the problem. Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage helps you if you encounter a driver who doesn’t carry any liability coverage. Underinsured motorist coverage assists with expenses if you encounter a driver who doesn’t carry enough liability coverage to pay for your needs. Each will cover medical bills, lost wages due to a car accident, compensation for pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and car damage (aka motorist property damage coverage). New Mexico also requires car insurance companies to offer you this type of coverage with a minimum of $10,000. You can reject the coverage in writing; however, it’s generally a good type of coverage to have.
How Sanchez & Piñon Can Help
If you’ve recently been the victim of an uninsured motorist and are seeking legal representation, contact Sanchez and Piñon, Rio Rancho’s auto accident and injury attorneys, for a free consultation. While other attorneys talk, we listen and provide a personal level of representation. We can discuss how to fight for the compensation you deserve.