Monday, March 16, 2009

Hit And Run Drivers...And How Your Insurance Company Gets Out Of Paying For Their Damage

You're driving down a country road late at night with your family and a van crosses the center line and is heading directly at you. You swerve quickly to avoid a collision and manage to miss the van, but you lose control and hit a tree. The van left the scene. You describe the van to the investigating officer as a gray and blue Ford van, but you were not able to positively identify it or get a license plate. Your car is totalled and so is your knee and shoulder, two surgeries and $35,000 later.

You call your agent, since you have Ohio uninsured motorists' coverage, which you were told would cover you in this situation. Result? Weeks or months later, your own insurance company denies your injury claim. Your uninsured motorists' coverage contains a clause that requires you to prove one of two things: (1) physical contact with the offending vehicle, or (2) "independent corraborative evidence" through independent third-party testimony that an unidentified vehicle caused your injury.

Your family's testimony describing the van is not enough. Why? Because Ohio law presumes that you are essentially filing a fraudulent claim until you prove otherwise. "Preventing fraudulent claims" is the reason for requiring "independent evidence" of the existence of an unidentified vehicle. It doesn't even matter if you're an honest person who never in your entire life had a claim and even passed a lie detector test. Nope, Ohio law throws out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, and presumes that you (and everybody else in the same situation) as an honest and premium paying insured is trying to hoodwink your insurance company by crashing the family car into a tree. Nice to know that when you send in your premiums, you're presumed to be a fraud and a liar, isn't it?

So what can you do? If you're run off the road by an irresponsible motorist, you need to try to gather evidence pertaining to the offending vehicle as quickly as possible. For example, a competent personal injury attorney can help you by hiring an investigator to attempt to find and interview nearby residents who may have witnessed the offending vehicle in the area. Furthermore, the vehicle may have left physical evidence in the area which can help to trace it the area where your collison occurred. In one Ohio case, testimony by local firefighters that a similar car was seen driving erratically in the same area shortly after forcing the injured person's car off the road was suffieient evidence to allow the injured person to make a claim under her policy.

In these types of cases, time is of the essence, and the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to meet this difficult "independent evidence" hurdle. So the worst thing you can do is wait weeks or months on your friendly insurance company to investigate your crash. After all, if you're "presumed" to be a liar until proven otherwise, you can figure out what the letter from your insurance will most likely say: CLAIM DENIED. I think Bob Dylan said it best when he sang: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

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