Car accidents happen. A driver makes a mistake and hits another person’s vehicle, the police are called, medical care is administered if necessary, and insurance information is exchanged. While unfortunate and inconvenient, car accidents follow a predictable procedure most of the time, and, if your policy provides for it, your insurance company will cover the damage. But what happens if you’re driving down a dark road and a pair of headlights bear down on you and force your car into a ditch? What if someone hits your car and then leaves the scene of the accident without stopping? What if you have no way of knowing who caused your accident?
These type of situations are known as collisions with unknown drivers, and it can be difficult to collect what is owed to you under your insurance policy. The good news for the victim of such an accident is that it is possible for them to collect uninsured motorist coverage. This type of coverage is statutorily required in South Carolina, and anyone who is insured has this coverage available. See S.C. Code Ann.§ 38-77-150. The bad news is that concerns regarding fraud have led South Carolina lawmakers to enact specific provisions as to when a person is able to make a claim on their uninsured motorist coverage for an unknown driver. Unless the victim has complied with the law, the driver’s coverage will be denied.
S.C. Code Ann. § 38-77-170 lays out three requirements in order to make a claim. The first requirement is that “the insured or someone in his behalf [must] report the accident to some appropriate police authority within a reasonable time, under all the circumstances, after its occurrence[.]” S.C. Code Ann. § 38-77-170(1). Essentially, this section states that the victim must promptly report the accident to the police as soon as they become aware of what has happened and are able to do so.
The second requirement is the most complicated and involves proving that an accident with an unknown driver actually occurred. The law states that “the injury or damage [must be] caused by physical contact with the unknown vehicle, or the accident must have been witnessed by someone other than the owner or operator of the insured vehicle; provided however, the witness must sign an affidavit attesting to the truth of the facts of the accident contained in the affidavit[.]” S.C. Code Ann. § 38-77-170(2).
What this means is that you need proof that the accident occurred. The simplest way to prove this is evidence of contact between the victim’s car and the unknown driver’s car, which is commonly referred to as “trading paint.” If no contact occurred, as in our earlier example where an unknown car forces another off the road, then there must be a witness willing to sign an affidavit explaining what happened. This requirement can become complicated, as the witness cannot be the driver or owner of the vehicle making the claim. This means that if your friend is driving your car and you are in the passengers seat when an accident occurs, neither one of you can write an affidavit about the accident. Because you are the owner of the vehicle and your friend was the driver of the vehicle, you are both disqualified by the law. If nobody in the car is eligible, it is a good idea to see if anyone nearby saw the accident occur and would be willing to make a statement on your behalf.
The third and final requirement is that “the insured was not negligent in failing to determine the identity of the other vehicle and the driver of the other vehicle at the time of the accident.” This essentially means that you can’t make a claim for an unknown driver if there is no reason the driver should have been unknown.
If you are in an accident caused by an unknown driver and comply with these three requirements, you will be able to successfully file a claim with your insurance company. Insurance companies don’t always pay as they should, however, and sometimes you will have to fight with the insurance company in order to prove that you are eligible to make an uninsured motorist claim. If you or anyone you know has ever been in a car accident and needs assistance or is struggling with their insurance company, contact Gruenloh Law at (843) 577-0027 and set up your free consultation.