Whether you are a Texas resident or are merely visiting the Lone Star State, it’s safe to say you’ll be spending some time in your car. Texas’s highway network contains approximately 73,000 centerline miles and around 180,000 miles of paved interstate highways. No matter where you need to go, you’ll probably be getting into your vehicle and going for a drive.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that driving on Texas roads can be dangerous. Texas leads the nation in traffic deaths. In 2018, there were 12,161 serious injury crashes in the state. Just going on a short drive down the street, there is the risk you get into an accident with another vehicle.
If you do get into an accident, you’ll want to get the other driver’s insurance information. After all, in Texas, all drivers must have at least the minimum required auto insurance. But what happens if the responsible driver does not have valid auto insurance? Specifically, what if they had insurance but didn’t make their premium payment after receiving notice from their insurer?
In this article, we want to discuss lapsed auto insurance and car accidents in Texas. Whether you get into an accident with a driver who has lapsed insurance, or you have expired insurance yourself, this article can clear up some myths and confusion around lapsed insurance.
Insurance Requirements in Texas
Lapsed insurance is what you think it is. It is when there is a gap or lapse in your insurance coverage. If, for example, you haven’t paid your most recent auto insurance premiums after receiving notice from your insurance carrier, you could have lapsed insurance.
The Texas Department of Insurance (“TDI”) lays out the insurance requirements for Texas drivers. Drivers in Texas are obligated by law to show proof they can pay for the damages they cause in an accident. The TDI says that “most drivers” do this by purchasing auto liability insurance. Ultimately, however, Texas state law requires that drivers have certain minimum amounts of coverage.
So what amount of coverage is required? There are three coverage minimums summed up as 30/60/25 coverage. Under Texas law, drivers have at least $30,000 of coverage for injuries per person, up to $60,000 in coverage per accident, and $25,000 of coverage for property damage. As you can see, 30/60/25 coverage should cover things like bodily injury, property damage, and the costs of others involved in the accident. The $60,000 in coverage per accident is intended to cover bodily injury when two or more people are involved in an accident you cause.
The 30/60/25 rule is the minimum coverage that Texas drivers need to have. The TDI further states that Texas drivers should think about getting more auto liability coverage. If, for instance, you get in a multi-vehicle accident or total another driver’s vehicle, your liability coverage may not be enough to cover all damages. While liability coverage is mandatory under Texas law, you can also purchase additional types of auto coverage. You can find the full list here, but some options include collision coverage, personal injury protection (“PIP”) coverage, towing and labor coverage, and medical payments coverage.
Speaking with an experienced car accident lawyer after an injury accident can help answer questions or concerns. Usually, it is best to talk with a local attorney before the adjuster if injuries are involved.
The Consequences of No Insurance or Lapsed Insurance
As you can see, the TDI explicitly says that Texas drivers must carry at least $30,000 of coverage for injuries per person, $25,000 of coverage for property damage, and $60,000 of coverage per accident. The simple truth, however, is that not every Texas driver meets these legal minimums. One estimate is that 20% of Texas drivers are uninsured. To be clear, lapsed coverage is the same as no coverage.
If a driver gets into an accident and is at fault, he or she will face financial liabilities in two ways. The first comes from the victim (and his or her auto insurance company). The second comes from Texas itself.
Texas A “Fault” Car Accident State
The first group of financial liabilities comes from the victim and her insurer. If a driver has no insurance or lapsed insurance, he or she won’t be able to avoid substantial financial liability. Simply put, these financial liabilities can be massive and can stay with an at-fault driver for years (or even decades).
Like some other states, Texas is a “fault” car accident state. Texas is not a no-fault state. A fault state means that when you get into an accident in Texas, your auto insurer isn’t automatically required to pay for medical bills, lost income, and other items (irrespective of who caused the accident). Instead, you can file a claim with your insurance company, the at-fault driver’s insurance company, or file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court.
If you get into an accident with a driver with no insurance or lapsed insurance, filing a lawsuit against the offending driver may be a tough option, simply because the odds of collecting a judgment in Texas are not great. Not to mention, you must prove fault for the accident. For victims, the goal is to get full compensation for their injuries. For those drivers who are at fault, they can be held 100% liable for all physical injuries and property damages caused by their accident. These costs can be tens of thousands of dollars (or even more). If the driver with no insurance or lapsed insurance cannot pay the judgment in full, he or she may be on the hook for years to come.
Additional Penalties For Lapsed Insurance
Along with this, drivers with no insurance or lapsed insurance face a variety of penalties and fines. Texas law outlines that first-time offenders will face a fine ranging from $175 and $350. That isn’t all, however. Drivers without insurance can be given a $250 surcharge on their annual driver’s licenses fee for three consecutive years.
But because these drivers are committing subsequent offenses, the state of Texas can impound the driver’s vehicle or even revoke the driver’s license.
Why You Need Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) in Texas
Ultimately, you can see why meeting the minimum amounts of auto liability coverage is essential. If you don’t, you can be on the hook for a significant amount of cash. You may even lose your license if you are a repeat offender.
But what happens if you get into an accident with someone who has no insurance or lapsed insurance? Even if you obtain a favorable judgment in Texas civil court, there is no guarantee that you will be fully compensated. You may be “right” on the merits of the case and have no responsibility for the accident, yet you may feel unsatisfied or extremely frustrated due to a small recovery. Or worse, the inability to collect money from the defendant.
Luckily, there is a solution. You can purchase uninsured motorist coverage. Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage provides additional protection if you get into an accident with someone with no insurance or not enough insurance. This type of coverage is also applicable if you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident.
This type of coverage isn’t explicitly required under Texas law. However, insurance companies in our state have to offer this kind of coverage to their customers. As the TDI states, insured individuals need to actively tell their insurance companies (in writing) that they don’t want this type of coverage.
In the end, this automatic opt-in to underinsured and uninsured coverage is encouraging, especially if you forget to explicitly request this type of coverage when speaking with your insurer. Nonetheless, it is always worth your time to double-check. It’s better to take those few seconds to follow-up rather than encounter a nasty surprise in the future.
Protecting Yourself While You’re on the Road
Getting into an auto accident can be a terrifying experience. Assuming that you weren’t seriously injured, it’s always a good idea to get the other driver’s insurance information. Gather as much evidence as you can, as this will help you when you are filing a claim or pursuing litigation.
In the end, however, you can minimize some of the financial pain before the accident. Make sure that you do not have lapsed auto coverage. Ensure that you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage as part of your auto insurance plan. And after you get into an accident? Stay cool, calm, and collected.
If, however, you need assistance pursuing civil litigation against the driver, we recommend that you work with a personal injury attorney. Your attorney can use his or her expertise to help you obtain the damages that you deserve. Ultimately, seeking professional help in this arena can provide financial benefits, reduce your overall stress, and free up more time to recover from your injuries.