Although the vast majority of states require drivers to carry car insurance, and their laws might back this up with fines and criminal penalties, a 2021 study by the Insurance Research Council (IRC) showed that 12.6% of drivers (about one in eight) are uninsured.
In this article, we'll cover:
First, count yourself lucky if the driver who hit you didn't simply drive off (assuming the other car could still be driven). Your state's law requires you to stop at the scene after a car accident, as long as it's safe to do so, and it probably defines driving off as a "hit and run." But this doesn't always deter people who are scared or hoping to avoid liability.
Obviously, your first step is to see whether anyone is injured, and call for medical attention if needed.
When speaking to the other driver, keep things as low-key and cordial as possible. Avoid arguments about who was at fault for the accident. Explain that you have car insurance and need to gather information to file a claim. Ask for the other driver's name and contact information. Take plenty of photos of the accident scene, including of the other car's license plate, indicators of its make and model, and images showing your location (including street signs, if relevant). If you don't have a phone, write such information down. If anyone stops and agrees to act as a witness, get their contact information as well. (See our post-car accident checklist.)
Also ask to take a photo of the other driver's license. Things could get a bit tense at this point; the other driver has good reason to be worried about criminal liability.
Whether your state's law requires calling the police might depend on the extent of property damage or injury resulting from the crash. If you're looking at anything bigger than a fender bender, it's quite possible that calling the police is mandatory, and you should explain as much to the other driver. Besides, you might have sustained car accident injuries that won't show up right away.
There are several advantages to having police officers visit the scene. They can interview witnesses, collect information and evidence, and potentially assess who is at fault. The latter might not mean much with an uninsured driver, but it might help you make a claim under your own insurance policy (as discussed below). The evidence in the police report might also help protect you from a surprise lawsuit by the other driver.
Even if you end up not calling the police, it's worth filing a police report at a later time. This can serve as another form of evidence in your insurance claim or in the event that you need to defend against the aforementioned surprise lawsuit. In fact, filing an accident report might be required in your state.
Learn more about police reports in car accident cases.
The driver of the other car might actually offer you money on the spot, trying to make the problem go away. Accepting cash is usually a bad idea, particularly if there's a chance you might have uninsured motorist coverage (discussed next). At best, you'd be helping the insurance company pay for the claim, since you won't be allowed to double-dip.
If you know for certain that you do not have uninsured motorist coverage, however, you might make a different choice.
Let's start with a reminder of how car insurance coverage is normally supposed to work. You and the other driver would report the accident to your respective insurers.
The first issue would be who pays for vehicle damage. If it's relatively obvious that the other driver is at fault, your insurance company would file a claim with that driver's insurance carrier for reimbursement of the cost of repairing or replacing your car.
The next and more complicated issue would be who pays for injuries to you and other passengers, and related "damages" such as your lost income.
If you happen to live in a "no fault" insurance state, who caused the accident won't necessarily matter with regard to who pays for personal injuries and damages. Broadly speaking, the personal injury protection (PIP) portion of your own policy would cover your injuries and lost income, without your carrier calling on the other insurer or party (unless the damage or injury meets a certain threshold).
Damage to the car is a separate matter, even in a no fault state. If the other driver was at fault, that driver's insurance would pay for vehicle repair or replacement.
In a state that doesn't have a no-fault system, the other driver's insurance company should provide coverage for both injuries and vehicle damage.
In any case, when both drivers are insured, one or the other insurance company should ultimately pay to get your car repaired or replaced, and also compensate you for injuries and related losses. But when one driver is uninsured, it's a different story.
There's good news here: Something called uninsured motorist coverage (UIM) is required in many states, as part of the standard auto insurance policy. UIM provides reimbursement both for property damage (to the car and its contents) and for the driver and passengers' personal injuries (if any) and related expenses.
In states that don't require UIM, however, the standard policy doesn't always include it. You would have had to agree to add and pay for it (always a wise move).
As with any other insurance claim, you'll want to contact your carrier as soon as possible and provide an account of what happened, along with any evidence you collected.
There will be an upper limit on the UIM payout, which you would have agreed to before purchasing the policy. Also, you won't receive the money right away. It will take time to establish what your medical and other expenses will add up to, and then to agree upon a settlement with your insurance company.
In theory you could file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver who hit your car. Consider, however, whether it's worth the time and energy. Someone who carries no car insurance at all is not likely to have significant assets. No matter what amount the judge were to award you, the task of collecting on the judgment would be largely up to you.
For information that's tailored to your situation after an accident with an uninsured driver, it might make sense to talk with a car accident lawyer.