You've been in a car accident, and all signs point to your being at fault. Now the other driver has filed a personal injury lawsuit against you, but you weren't carrying car insurance at the time of the crash. What now?
If the Accident Was (Relatively) Minor
First, if it’s a minor accident, and the other driver doesn’t have uninsured motorist coverage, he or she might sue you in small claims court, without getting a lawyer involved. That may be the best possible outcome for you.
In small claims court, it will only be you and the other driver in front of the judge. The judge will still find you responsible if you caused the accident, and you’ll still have to pay damages to the other driver, but at least you’ll have a chance to explain your side of the story without a lawyer grilling you. But best of all, your liability will be limited to whatever the small claims dollar limit is in your state, usually between $5,000 and $10,000. (Check this 50-State Chart of Small Claims Limits, from Nolo.com, for details on the rules in your state.)
If the Accident Resulted in Serious Injury/Damage
If you're an uninsured driver who is at fault for a serious accident, and the other driver doesn’t have uninsured motorist coverage, chances are he or she is going to hire a car accident lawyer who will likely sue you. If you truly don’t have much in the way of money or income, you might be able to get out of the situation by coming clean and proving that:
- you have no money or other assets to speak of, and
- you don’t earn much money (which would make the prospect of attaching wages a lot less attractive to the lawyer).
The lawyer doesn’t want to waste his or her time (or the client’s time) and might wind up dropping the case, or settling for a negligible amount.
More Money, More Problems
If you have significant assets and/or a steady and significant income, you could lose a sizable chunk of your money.
If you get sued, and you stand to lose a lot, you don’t want to be in court without a lawyer, especially when the other party is represented by counsel. (More: What If the Other Party Has a Lawyer and I Don't?)
If you don't think you can pay for a lawyer, you probably want to check out free or low cost legal clinics in your area, possibly one associated with a local law school. If you have some money in the bank and a reasonable job, you cannot afford to be unrepresented when you are being sued in a personal injury case. Remember, with no insurance policy, you're on the personal hook for all injuries and vehicle damage caused by the car accident.
If the Other Driver Has Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Let's say you get sued over a car accident, and you have no insurance, but the other driver does carry uninsured motorist protection as part of their own car insurance policy, and they make a claim with their own insurer under that coverage.
In that situation, the other driver will settle the case with his or her insurer, and then the insurer will almost certainly bring what is called a subrogation claim against you, for whatever it paid the other driver, as well as attorneys fees and costs (if your state allows insurers to claim those types of damages in subrogation cases).
So now you’re facing a lawyer, and the value of the other driver’s claim has already been assessed. Once again, if this situation occurs, and you have any money to lose, you are going to need to hire a lawyer. You can’t go into this without a lawyer to at least evaluate the merits of the claim against you.