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Getting into an automotive collision is bad enough with a driver that is financially responsible and has insurance. Finding out the driver that struck you is uninsured can lead to an even more complex claims process. Do not assume a crash with an uninsured motorist will mean you have to pay for your damages out of pocket, however. If you are in this situation, seek help from an Atlanta uninsured motorist accident lawyer at The Simon Law Firm. We can assist you in exploring all your legal options.
Treat an accident with an uninsured driver much the same as you would a typical car accident in the city of Atlanta, until you get to the insurance claims process. First, stop your vehicle at the scene and evaluate yourself for injuries. Move your disabled vehicle off the road, if possible. If you or anyone else has any injuries, or you suspect property damage above $500, call 911 to report the crash to the police. You should also call the police upon learning that the other driver does not have auto insurance. Reporting this to the police can lead to penalties against the other driver, such as driver’s license suspension until he or she purchases insurance. Receive medical care for your injuries. Then, contact an Atlanta, GA uninsured motorist lawyer.
If an uninsured driver causes your accident in Georgia, you have financial recovery options besides the other driver’s insurance company. Your first outlet for recovery will be your auto insurance provider. Although uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance is not a requirement in the state of Georgia, you must specifically reject this coverage. If you do not remember rejecting this coverage, your policy most likely contains some insurance for bodily injuries and property damages due to uninsured motorists.
Call your insurance company to ask if you have this coverage. If so, your own provider should furnish you with a check for your damages. If not, your other legal option for recovery is a personal injury lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver or another party, such as the driver’s employer, a car manufacturer or the government, could result in compensation for your losses even if the driver does not have car insurance. An Atlanta uninsured motorist lawyer can help you discover if you have grounds for a lawsuit against a third party.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance, also called UM/UIM insurance, is not mandatory in Georgia. The only required insurance coverages are $25,000 per person for bodily injury, $50,000 per accident for bodily injury and $25,000 per accident for property damage. If you do not pay for UM/UIM insurance, you may have to pay out of pocket for your losses and expenses relating to your accident, even if you were not at fault. An uninsured motorist lawyer, however, may be able to help you seek compensation through the civil justice system instead of an insurance claim.
Starting a lawsuit in Georgia involves a few keys steps and one of the key requirements is that you file the lawsuit within the statute of limitations and that you get the defendant served properly. That basically means you have to have the sheriff or a licensed process server physically hand it to the person or to an adult who lives with them at the same home. Sometimes you have a situation where the defendant is hiding from service and if you cannot find them, you have the option of serving them by publication and going against your own uninsured motorist insurance. The process for service by publication is complicated, but suffice it to say that you have to get an order from the judge and run the lawsuit in the newspaper. When you go this route, you typically have to show that you tried pretty hard to serve the defendant but could not locate them in the state or that they are hiding from service.
In a recent opinion, a woman appealed an order of a Georgia trial court after the court threw out her personal injury lawsuit for failing to properly serve the defendant and for not meeting the standards for service by publication.
According to the court’s opinion, the woman filed a lawsuit against the defendant after he allegedly failed to yield the right-of-way and crashed into her vehicle. Evidently, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit about 22 months after the accident, seeking damages for the serious injuries she sustained. Pursuant to Georgia law, the woman sought the assistance of the sheriff’s office in serving the defendant. However, when the sheriff went to the defendant’s address, a resident informed him that the defendant did not reside there. About two months after this initial attempt, the defendant filed an answer to the complaint, asking the court to dismiss the claim based on insufficient service of process. Following this response, the plaintiff filed a motion for service by publication. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint finding that she did not meet the two-year statute of limitations and failed to act diligently to complete proper service.
Service by Publication
Georgia statutes, section 33-7-11, provides certain instances where a judge may grant an order that the service be made on a vehicle’s owner or driver by publication. These situations include when the defendant lives out of the state, departed the state, cannot be found after due diligence, or if they conceal themselves to avoid service. Specifically, the legal standard requires diligence in determining that the other motorist is eluding service or out of the state. In some cases, a defendant may argue a “laches” defense, which claims that a plaintiff did not diligently pursue service; however, this is not necessarily enough to result in the dismissal of a plaintiff’s claim.
In this case, the appellate court determined that the trial court used the wrong standard when it found that the plaintiff failed to discover the other motorist’s location. The court explained that the law does not require that a plaintiff ascertain the defendant’s location; rather, the statute provides that the plaintiff must show diligence in determining that the defendant left the state. Here, the court held that the lower court failed to consider whether the defendant “was evading or otherwise avoiding service” and instead focused on whether the plaintiff “failed to show due diligence in attempting service.” In so holding, the court noted that the defendant’s attorney objected to the plaintiff’s request to the defendant’s insurance company for the defendant’s last known address. In other words, the trial court incorrectly focused exclusively on the plaintiff’s efforts to serve the defendant, and not on the defendant’s actions in making service more difficult — or impossible.
The court went on to explain that, because the trial court applied an incorrect standard of law, the motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations amounted to a plain legal error. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Remember if you are waiting right up to the line to file your lawsuit, there are enormous dangers that can kill your case. Make sure you have all of your ducks in a row on serving the defendant and have a backup plan to pursue the uninsured motorist insurer through service by publication if not.
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