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The law is clear in Alabama: If you want to register, maintain or drive a car, you absolutely must have liability insurance. Since it’s the law, most motorists assume that everyone else on the road with them is covered in the event of an accident.

In reality, about 22 percent of Alabama drivers don’t carry insurance, according to the Insurance Research Council. That’s the sixth-worst rate in the United States, well above the national average of 13 percent.

Alabama has taken a number of measures to crack down on uninsured drivers over the past several years. Since 2013, law enforcement agencies and license offices have been using an online database to make sure any given insurance policy is current and active in real time.

The penalty for driving without insurance in Alabama is a $500 fine on the first violation and $1000 for all subsequent violations, plus a six-month license suspension and, for a second or subsequent violation, a mandatory 4-month registration suspension.

Those fines, however, aren’t much comfort if you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist – an unfortunately likely scenario, considering that a fifth of all drivers in Alabama are uninsured.

Moreover, even if the other driver is covered, it may not be enough. Alabama mandates 25/50/25 coverage, meaning every driver is required to have coverage up to $25,000 for an accident that injures or kills one person, $50,000 for an accident that injures or kills two or more people, and $25,000 for property damage. Many accidents can cause damage exceeding that minimum coverage.

That’s why you need underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage to protect yourself in the event of an accident. Without uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, your only legal recourse is to pursue a lawsuit against the negligent driver to recover damages. As a practical matter, you can only recover damages if the other driver has assets to take, and in most cases, people who have opted not to pay for insurance also have limited assets.

Even with coverage, though, cases involving uninsured or underinsured motorists can be legally challenging. Multiple parties might hold some liability in such accidents, including the other driver’s insurance if any, his or her employer’s insurance or a spouse or family member’s insurance in addition to your own insurance. Insurance companies often try to settle claims for as little money as possible, and accepting a settlement from one insurer can change another company’s liability.

In short, if you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist, you’ll likely need excellent legal representation to help you navigate those complexities. At Braswell Murphy LLC, we have years of experience helping Alabama drivers get the compensation they need after an accident.