Drivers must be insured if operating a motor vehicle in Oregon. If you own a vehicle, you must certify that you have insurance before you can renew your registration.
Oregon law requires that you carry proof of current insurance coverage with you while you are driving. Most insurance companies will send you a card you can carry with you or in the vehicle. Always check to make sure you know where your current card is so you can find it quickly. If you borrow someone else's car, make sure you know you are covered by their insurance or your own and have proof of coverage. The law requires that you show proof of insurance to the other driver if you have an accident and to the police if you are pulled over. If you can't produce your card when the officer asks for it, you can be cited for the violation of "failure to carry proof." If you are convicted of the offense of driving uninsured, you will have to pay a fine of at least $130 and potentially up to $1,000, depending on what the court decides.
Your driver’s license will also be suspended and the DMV will require you to buy insurance to get it back. The DMV will suspend your license for one year, and you will be required to buy insurance to get your license back, and you will need to get a “SR-22 Certificate” from your insurance company (for an extra fee) and file it with the DMV as proof that you have insurance. You will continue to need to keep the SR-22 Certificate on file with the DMV for the next 3 years.
If you are involved in an accident and neither you nor the owner of the vehicle is insured, the investigating officer will probably give you a citation for driving uninsured. Even if you are not cited, you will get in trouble with the DMV, and will have to buy insurance and the “SR-22 Certificate” to get your license back.
If you cause an accident and you are uninsured, then you can be personally sued for money damages by any injured person. If they receive a judgment against you for money damages, and you do not pay within 60 days, your license can be suspended until the judgment is paid. The injured person with the judgment may be able to have the court order that money be taken from your bank account or your paychecks in order to pay the judgment.
If you are injured in an accident and you are uninsured at the time of the accident, there will probably be limitations on your ability to recover certain kinds of money damages from the at-fault driver in a lawsuit.
Personal Injury Protection
If you are injured in an accident that is the fault of an uninsured motorist, then you may have the following insurance protection. You will be protected by Oregon's no-fault insurance, known as personal injury protection or "PIP," if:
you are insured under your own policy; or
the private passenger motor vehicle you were in is insured; or
you are a pedestrian struck by an insured private passenger motor vehicle.
No matter who was at fault, the insurance will pay up to $15,000 for reasonable medical, hospital, dental, surgical, ambulance and prosthetic services incurred within one year after the accident. If you are disabled and cannot work for at least 14 days, you can receive 70 percent of the loss of income from work up to a maximum of $3,000 per month for a combined period of 52 weeks. If you are not employed but are disabled for at least 14 days, you can receive $30 per day for a combined maximum of 52 weeks for essential services you would have performed during the period of disability until you are reasonably able to perform those essential services. Such essential services might include: house cleaning, childcare and cooking. If you are a parent of a minor child and need hospitalization for a minimum of 24 hours, you can receive $25 per day for childcare until you are able to return to work or, if you are not employed, until you can return to performing essential services. The maximum amount paid for childcare is $750. If your insurance policy and a different policy insuring the vehicle both apply, you may be entitled to benefits under both policies.
If a person is killed in an accident, the PIP benefits will pay $5,000 for reasonable and necessary funeral expenses.
Additionally, you should check your own disability and/or health insurance policies. They may provide benefits, in addition to your PIP coverage or after your PIP coverage expires, in the event you have been injured through your own negligence or through the negligence or fault of either an insured or an uninsured driver.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Every insurance policy issued in Oregon requires that the insurance company provide Uninsured Motorist (or "UM") coverage. If you are injured in an accident through the fault of an uninsured driver, whether you were driving or were a pedestrian, your own insurance will provide coverage up to the limits of your UM policy. In essence, it provides substitute coverage when the at-fault driver does not have any insurance.
Your own insurance will enable you to recover noneconomic and economic damages in any amounts, up to your UM policy limits, that you would have been entitled to recover from the uninsured driver. Economic damages include medical expenses and wage loss. Noneconomic damages include pain and suffering, interference with normal activities, and permanent injury.
You may obtain the benefit of your UM coverage also in a situation where there is a hit-and-run accident, and you are unable to identify the other vehicle. UM coverage may also be available when a "phantom vehicle" causes an accident, even though no actual contact was made between the vehicles. In the case of a "hit-and-run" or "phantom vehicle," the injured party must report the accident to the police or Motor Vehicles Division within 72 hours after the accident and notify his or her insurance company within 30 days of the fact that a claim will be made for damages. Independent evidence must corroborate the injured party's testimony about the "phantom vehicle."
You may have underinsured motorist coverage, or UIM coverage, if your UM limits are greater than the minimum limits required by law ($25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident). Under UIM coverage, you may be entitled to the difference between the limits on your UM policy and the limits on the policy for an insured driver who caused your injuries in the accident. Put another way, the amount of UIM benefits available to you is determined by subtracting the amount recovered by or on your behalf under other liability insurance policies from the UM limits. For example, if a negligent driver injures you and has the minimum requirement of $25,000 worth of liability coverage, and your own policy has UM limits of $100,000, then your policy would provide you with up to $75,000 in UIM insurance.
In certain circumstances, the total liability insurance policy does not have to be exhausted or offered in settlement before UIM coverage applies. However, you must obtain your UIM carrier's consent before you settle with the liability carrier. Failure to obtain consent may result in a complete loss of UIM benefits. You must also make your UIM claim within the appropriate time period.
The law requires that you sign a statement with your auto insurance company if you want your UM limits to be less than the liability limits of your policy. In other words, if the liability limits on your insurance policy are $100,000, your UM limits must also be $100,000 unless you have elected lower limits in writing. Having lower limits may save you on premiums, but you are taking a risk there will not be enough insurance coverage to pay for everything if you are involved in an accident with another person who is uninsured or underinsured.
You can also purchase uninsured motorist coverage to pay for damages to your vehicle or property (in addition to your injuries). This coverage is not required by law, but must be offered to you by your insurance company as an option when you buy your policy.
Resolving Disputes with Your Insurer
If you have been injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver, and you and your insurance company disagree about the amount you are entitled to recover from the uninsured driver, you and the insurance company may agree to resolve the dispute between you by arbitration. (Arbitration is a procedure to resolve disputes without going through the litigation process or a formal trial.) Your own insurance policy may have provisions indicating how the arbitrators are to be selected. Arbitration is not required. You may instead sue your insurance company. If you have to make the decision between arbitration and a lawsuit in court, you should speak with an attorney.
The arbitration hearing is generally held in the offices of one or three arbitrators and allows both sides to present evidence on the issues in question. Rules of evidence are relaxed somewhat, and the proceedings are not as formal as a trial at the courthouse. The arbitrator(s) will decide all of the issues involved, including whether the damages you sustained were caused by the negligence of the uninsured driver and the amount of damages to which you are entitled. If you and the insurance company have agreed to use arbitration, the decision of the arbitrator(s) is final and binding upon both sides. As stated earlier, you also have the right to a jury trial if you do not want to arbitrate your dispute, but a jury trial may increase the cost and time it takes to resolve your case.
Just as in any other matter, it's wise to talk to a lawyer before you make any decisions or sign anything. Remember that the insurance companies and the other driver have different interests than you; your lawyer will have only your best interest in mind. You might also obtain advice on how to represent yourself while resolving your case.
Legal editor: Kevin Kress, November 2017.