Our, Modesto, California car accident law firm is frequently asked whether an uninsured motorist can sue the at fault driver in California. The answer is yes and no. If you are an uninsured driver in California you CANNOT sue for pain and suffering. Even when it is not your fault, you are barred from getting money for pain and suffering if you are uninsured while driving. It doesn’t matter if you are driving in Modesto, Sacramento, the Bay Area or anywhere in California, no insurance = no pain and suffering recovery. Technically the ban to these damages extends to pain and suffering, loss of life, emotional stress and other non-economic damages. Those drivers without insurance can still sue for lost wages and medical bills but not pain and suffering. PASSENGERS can still collect money for pain and suffering.
Pain and suffering damages are important. Injury from a car accident can be as little as a sore neck to paralysis or death. How much is the pain and suffering from a broken neck worth, may you ask? Well, if you were the driver of a car and you were uninsured, then zero according to California law. The reason you cannot collect non economic damages as an uninsured motorist is because in 1996 California voters passed Proposition 213 which was aimed at making more California drivers get insurance. This proposition which bars uninsured motorist from collecting non-economic was codified in California Civil Code § 3333.4(a)(2).
Not only have appellate courts continued to uphold this provision in the law and deny people from seeking non-economic damages, an appellate court recently extending denial of non-economic damages further. In Chude v. Jack in the Box, Inc. (2010) 185 Cal. App. 4th 37, is illustrative of this extension. In that case Teckla Chude suffered major burns on her body because of a scolding hot coffee from a coffee purchased in the Jack in the Box drive through had spilled from the cup from the unsecured lid into the seat of her pants.
The question is not whether Jack in the Box was negligent, but whether Chude could seek damages for pain and suffering. Chude was uninsured as she went through the drive through at Jack in the Box and was subsequently burned. This trial court granted Jack in the Box’s motion for summary adjudication on Chude’s non-economic damages claim. The Second District Court of Appeals in this above case upheld the ruling that non-economic damages are not allowed where the driver of the car is uninsured, even where there is no car accident.
The good news is that about 85 percent of motorists carry insurance. That means if you were in an auto accident and you were not at fault, then you can have your lost wages paid to you, your hospital bills paid and receive money for pain and suffering.