Every now and again, I receive calls from clients who were driving along a freeway, such as Interstate 5 in Stockton, California when another vehicle suddenly veers into their lane, not striking their vehicle, but causing them to turn their car into the median barrier or even worse, into the opposite lane of travel. They suffer bodily injuries and car accident damage. The car that veered into their lane did not stop but rather drove away as if the accident did not occur.
The clients want to know if their automobile policy’s uninsured motorist coverage will cover them for their vehicle’s damages and their bodily injuries even though they have no information on the hit-and-run driver. In other words, they don’t know if the hit-and-run driver is insured or uninsured. We call this driver, “THE PHANTOM DRIVER”.
No, the phantom driver is not like the “Phantom of the Opera”. If you have ever seen the play or movie, the “Phantom of the Opera”, then you know that the phantom in the play appears and disappears throughout the show. Unlike the “Phantom of the Opera”, the phantom driver appears but then permanently disappears. He or she is a driver that is almost impossible to trace. This person causes a motor vehicle accident and then abruptly decides to drive his or her car away from the scene. As a result, it is almost impossible to write down their vehicle’s license plate number.
Uninsured motorist coverage, pursuant to California Insurance Code section 11580.2, will generally cover the insured’s injuries and property damage depending on whether an insured carried uninsured motorist coverage. In California, an insured must expressly waive the coverage; otherwise, the coverage should be in place. Uninsured motorist coverage may be restricted to bodily injury coverage or may cover both property damage and bodily injury. Therefore, our clients will be told to bring their policies to us for review.
However, it is not sufficient to just carry uninsured motorist coverage. The insured will generally have to prove that there was contact damage to the vehicle. In other words, the phantom driver operated his or her car so that it directly struck the insured’s vehicle. If there was no contact, then uninsured motorist coverage is typically denied. The insurance industry sought this protection to avoid fraudulent claims.
Therefore, in the scenario above, uninsured motorist coverage will likely be denied. However, our clients don’t lose hope. At Curtis Legal Group, we encourage our clients to see us regarding these cases so that arguments may be made in order to achieve compensation. We look at all the factors to see what can be done to achieve justice.