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Why Do I Need Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Insurance?

No one wants to be involved in a car wreck. Believe me, as a personal injury attorney I’ve seen my share of injured clients. And while the physical injuries are difficult enough for my clients to deal with, I’ve witnessed financial hardships accident victims have gone through who received little or no financial compensation. Why? Because they didn’t carry uninsured motorist insurance (UM) or underinsured motorist insurance (UIM).

What Can Happen if I Don’t Carry UM or UIM?

First of all, if your car is insured in North Carolina under a personal policy, you automatically have UM. That’s because in 2009, it became mandatory for all insured drivers in the state to carry uninsured motorist coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage is just what its name implies – it covers you if you are injured by an uninsured driver.

When you or your passengers are involved in a car wreck – whether you’re a driver, a pedestrian, riding a bike, etc., – the “at fault” driver (or their insurance company) is typically responsible for paying your medical bills and other related expenses. Even though medical bills can potentially reach tens of thousands of dollars, North Carolina only requires a minimum of $30,000/$60,000 in auto insurance:

  • $30,000 is the maximum insurance will pay to one individual.
  • $60,000 is the maximum amount it will pay to all injured victims. In other words, no matter how many people are hurt, the insurance company will pay out no more than $60,000 divided among them, whether that amount covers their bills or not.

Roughly One of Every 11 NC-Licensed Drivers is Not Insured

Although car insurance is mandatory in North Carolina, the latest statistics (2012) from the Insurance Information Institute show that 9.1% of North Carolina drivers do not have car insurance. That means roughly one of every 11 NC drivers you might encounter along I-40 have no insurance to help pay medical and other bills if they sideswipe you – maybe while texting!

Here are three primary situations to be aware of where underinsured or uninsured drivers can make your life miserable if you don’t have UM or UIM:

  1. Driver is not insured at all (the 9.1%)
  2. Driver flees the scene in a hit and run
  3. Driver does not have enough auto insurance

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios to see how the three situations above would play out with and without UM or UIM.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM)

Driver 1 is not paying attention and rear-ends your car. Driver 1 is cooperative, but has no insurance. You could take her to court, but there is a decent chance she is judgment proof. Being judgment proof in North Carolina means you may not be able to go after a bank account or other property to collect. Depending on the circumstances, this means you could sue her and even win, but you may never see any of the money you “won” from the lawsuit. If you have UM, you can file an uninsured motorist claim with your own insurance company. And since you were not at fault, you have an opportunity to be compensated fairly without your rates going up.

Now let’s assume Driver 2 runs into you as you’re walking on the sidewalk. He flees the scene, and the police are not able to catch him. If there’s no driver, there’s no one to go after for your medical bills. UM coverage may also help you in this scenario, by potentially allowing you to recover money – without your rates going up.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM)

Unlike uninsured motorist coverage, underinsured motorist coverage is optional in North Carolina. That being said, UIM is fairly cheap and can save you a lot of money and headache if you’re seriously injured. As the name implies, underinsured motorist coverage applies when a driver is underinsured, meaning they do not have enough insurance to cover your medical bills or damages.

Here’s how it might play out. When you are injured by a negligent driver, you first collect from their insurance company. If the driver does not have enough insurance to cover your medical bills and other expenses, then you could potentially be stuck paying those bills yourself – unless you have underinsured motorist coverage. As discussed earlier, the person who hit you may be judgment proof, and you may never collect the full amount due, even if you get a successful verdict in the lawsuit. So to get the money you need for bills, you may be able to file an underinsured motorist claim. This may potentially cover the difference from what the other guy’s insurance pays and the bills you owe.

As an example, let’s assume Driver 3 injures you and your claim is worth $80,000. Driver 3 admits fault, but only has the $30,000 minimum insurance required in North Carolina. This means his insurance company would only be required to pay you $30,000. After collecting the full $30,000 from his insurance company, you still have $50,000 in bills. If you have underinsured motorist coverage, and depending on the amount of your policy, your insurance company may cover the difference.

These scenarios – which our law firm deals with far too often – represent why I emphasize the need for UM and UIM. Each can be a financial lifesaver. And filing a claim with your UM or UIM shouldn’t make your rates go up.

Do I Need an Attorney for UM or UIM Claims?

Based on my experience, typically the answer is YES. Even though you are dealing with your own insurance company, experience has taught me that they may try to pay you the least amount of money possible. That’s why it can be important to have someone fighting for you who knows the system. You may have had nothing but good experiences with your agent or a customer service rep in the past, but all that love can potentially change when money is on the table. If you find yourself in one of these or other unfortunate scenarios, contact us online or call 1-866-900-7078.


The Insurance Company Told Me They Would Stop My Weekly Check if I Don’t Go Back To Work. Can They?

The concern about continuing to receive a weekly check is something we see often, and understandably so. When you are out of work due to a work injury, your only source of income is often that weekly benefits check, and it’s important to protect it while you’re recovering from your work injury. ­­

The insurance company cannot decide to just stop your weekly check if you don’t go back to work. However, like most large and powerful bureaucratic processes, the devil is in the details.

When the Insurance Company CAN Stop Paying Benefits

In North Carolina, once your weekly checks start, the insurance company can only stop paying them under two circumstances:

  1. You return to work
  2. The insurance company gets permission from the Industrial Commission to stop paying

If you go back to work, even for a day, the insurance company can stop your weekly check immediately, without going before a judge. If you are, for any reason, unable to continue working after you’ve returned to work, it is very difficult to get that weekly check re-started.

If the insurance company is asking you to go back to work and you do not feel ready or able to perform the job they are asking of you, the only way the insurance company can stop your weekly check is to go before the Industrial Commission and obtain an order allowing them to stop it.

If the insurance company goes before the Industrial Commission, you or your attorney will have an opportunity to explain why you do not feel able to return to work. After that time, the Industrial Commission will make a ruling. Only if they side with the insurance company, is the check stopped. This process can take several weeks.

It is also important to know that in North Carolina, your doctor must review and approve a written job description before you go back to work. If the insurance company is asking you to go back without a doctor-approved job description for the work they are asking you to perform, they will be unable to stop your check.

Two Clients – Two VERY Different Outcomes

We had two clients recently who dealt with this issue, and they had very different outcomes based on their actions.

One client was contacted by the insurance company and told to return to work. He had been assigned work restrictions and was unable to perform his pre-injury job due to the injury. He felt he had a good relationship with his boss, and thought his employer would work with him. He did not know that the insurance company was required to have a doctor-approved job description. So he went back to work. His employer, however, made him do more than he was physically capable of doing, so he was unable to continue working. Yet because he returned to work, the insurance company was able to cut off his check, and he had to wait for relief until we went before a judge*.

Another client was rightfully hesitant about returning to work when the insurance company asked him to. He heeded our advice, which was to wait until he had a doctor-approved job description. His employer was never able to put together a job description because they did not have light duty work available. He was able to remain out of work and continue to receive his weekly check.1 This allowed our client to focus on healing from his injury.

Need Advice?

You’re not alone. We’re proud to say we’ve helped thousands just like you. Some insurance companies may try to scare you into thinking you don’t have a choice or the time to consider your situation before you make a decision. Don’t let them back you into a corner.

If you are being asked to return to work and you do not feel ready, give us a call at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online. Let one of our workers’ comp attorneys – five of whom are Board Certified Specialists in Workers’ Compensation Law – evaluate your situation for free!


The Very First Thing You Should Do After You’re Injured at Work

A common question we hear in workers’ compensation claims is whether the client has reported the injury or accident to his employer. This reporting issue is critical. And often, the answer will determine whether the client is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

If you suffer an injury on the job, report it to your employer immediately in writing if possible.

Why report an injury IMMEDIATELY and IN WRITING?

I’ll give you two good reasons. First, North Carolina law requires an employee to report an injury within 30 days. Immediately reporting your injury significantly reduces the chance that your claim will be denied. The employee’s failure to report an injury is one of the most frequent reasons insurance companies cite for denying a claim. Second, a claim in which written notice has not been provided within 30 days can be barred.

Let’s examine these reasons more closely.

The law requires written notice

The Workers’ Compensation Act instructs an injured employee to give written notice to the employer immediately after the injury occurs. Section 97-22 states:

“Every injured employee or his representative shall immediately on the occurrence of an accident, or as soon thereafter as practicable, give or cause to be given to the employer a written notice of the accident…” (emphasis added). If written notice is not given within 30 days, “no compensation shall be payable.”

This rule can be harsh. Some assume that verbally reporting their injury – telling a manager, supervisor, or coworker what happened – is sufficient.

Not so. I cannot emphasize enough that failing to provide written notice can legally bar you from recovering any benefits.

Exception to the rule

Thankfully, there is a common-sense exception that makes this rule less of a pitfall for injured workers. If the employee has a reasonable excuse for not providing written notice within 30 days, and the employer is not harmed by the delay, the employee can still receive compensation.

This exception arises most frequently when the employer has “actual notice” of the workplace injury -when the employer is notified immediately or knows of it first-hand.

The real concern is whether an employer and its insurance company are harmed by the injured worker’s failure to provide notice. If an employer is aware that an injury occurred, it would be difficult to argue that they were harmed by a lack of written notice. With actual notice of a workplace injury, the employer has an opportunity to investigate, interview witnesses, and send the injured worker to a doctor of their choosing.

As a practical matter, however, even if your employer has actual notice of your injury, you should always submit a written notice of injury as soon as possible. Providing written notice fully complies with the law and documents that notice was given.

Bottom line: Don’t rely on your employer’s knowledge of your injury. Be safe, comply with the law – provide written notice.

Immediate written notice helps support your claim

The second reason you should report your injury immediately is that it greatly reduces the chances that your claim will be denied. As noted above, one of the most frequent reasons claims are denied is an injured worker’s failure to provide a timely injury report.

That being said, running to your employer at the first sign of a tweaked back can go against the grain of our culture’s emphasis on ruggedness and “sticking it out.” Many clients have confided in me that they didn’t report a back injury right away because they thought it was only a minor sprain or tweak, and they didn’t want to cause trouble at work. You can see the dilemma for employees. They want to push through minor aches and pains so they won’t be considered weak or whiny. However, by not reporting minor tweaks and sprains, they jeopardize their workers’ compensation claim if the injury proves to be more serious.

This may come as a surprise, but it’s been our experience that some workers’ compensation insurance companies all too often have little interest in “doing the right thing” for an injured worker. If the insurance company can latch onto any reason for denying a claim, more often than not they will. Failing to immediately report an injury provides a technical and legal basis for them to deny you.

What’s more, employers can have a deeply ingrained suspicion of workers’ compensation claims. Experience tells us that some employers can be much too quick to discredit an employee who reports an injury. Reporting delays merely heighten these suspicions and can adversely affect the injured worker’s claim credibility. Time and time again, we’ve seen that the injured workers who report their injury immediately are more likely to be believed and to have their claim accepted.

If you didn’t report right away DON’T WORRY

All is not necessarily lost. At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we have considerable experience dealing with these reporting issues and challenging claims where the insurance company refused to pay benefits because of reporting issues.

Our workers’ compensation department offers five Board Certified Specialists in North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law – the highest level of workers’ compensation specialization possible in North Carolina. We even have attorneys, paralegals, and other staff members who’ve worked for “the other side.”

Make no doubt about it – we will utilize these and other vast resources to fight for you and try to help see that reporting issues do not potentially ruin your claim. Contact us online for a free case evaluation or call us at 1-866-900-7078.