Four Ways You Can Get Compensation Above Policy Limits after a Car Accident

  • In a typical negligence claim, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is only required to pay compensation up to the limit of the liability policy. 
  • To recover more than the automobile liability policy limit, you can look for additional insurance coverage under other policies, such as umbrella and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. 
  • If the available insurance doesn’t fully cover the cost of the accident, you can file a lawsuit to recover the remaining amount from the at-fault driver’s personal assets. 
  • If the at-fault driver was reckless or the insurance carrier acted in bad faith when handling the claim, you may be entitled to compensation far above insurance policy limits. 

When another person’s negligence causes you or a loved one to be hurt in a car accident, you may have a legal claim to recover compensation. Under Georgia law, a victim is entitled to compensation for the total cost of the accident, which includes all economic and noneconomic losses. 

Generally, the first step in recovering compensation is to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s automobile insurance liability policy. In an ideal world, the insurance policy would cover all your costs and the matter would be resolved. In reality, however, insurance policies have limits, and the carrier isn’t required to pay above the limit for a typical negligence claim. 

In Georgia, the minimum amount of liability insurance a driver must have is fairly low—$25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in bodily injury. The total cost of an accident can vary, but if your injuries are severe or there are multiple victims making claims, your damages can easily exceed these limits.  

Unless you or your attorney can find a way to recover more than the policy limit, you could be left holding the bag for an accident that wasn’t your fault. 

You Can Recover More Than the Policy Limit in Certain Circumstances 

Two accidents, one insurance company

Though insurance companies are usually only required to pay up to the policy limit when settling a liability claim, you can recover far more than the limit in certain circumstances. One common way to recover more is to file additional claims against other available insurance policies when the primary policy doesn’t fully cover your costs.  

If there are no other policies (or the additional policies still don’t cover all your costs), you can file a lawsuit to collect the remaining amount from the at-fault driver’s personal assets. 

In situations where the at-fault driver was not merely negligent but reckless, you can seek punitive damages that may far exceed the policy limit under Georgia law.  

Finally, an insurance company that fails to exhaust the policy limit to settle a valid claim by the deadline set in the demand letter can be forced to pay any amount a jury sees fit if the carrier acted in bad faith. 

Find More Available Insurance Coverage 

While filing a claim against the at-fault driver’s auto liability policy may be your first step, it may not be your only coverage option. Especially in cases where the liability policy limit is low, focusing on a single policy can cause you to miss out on maximum compensation. To ensure that you’re compensated for the full cost of the accident, you or your attorney should explore all available insurance policies. 

For example, the at-fault driver may have an umbrella policy that kicks in after the auto liability limit has been exhausted. Umbrella insurance is specifically designed to provide extra coverage protection for the insured beyond the limits of their other insurance policies, so it may allow you to collect more compensation. Corporate defendants, such as trucking companies, are more likely to have umbrella policies than individuals, but many individuals who have significant personal assets also buy this type of protection. 

If there are multiple defendants responsible for your accident, you may be able to recover compensation under multiple policies. For example, if you were hit by a delivery truck, you may have a claim against two liability policies: the driver’s and the trucking company’s. If the driver’s liability limit is $25,000 and the trucking company’s is $100,000, there is $125,000 of coverage available. 

In situations where the available policies don’t fully cover your costs—or when those responsible have no insurance—you can file a claim against your own uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) policy. While not required in Georgia, UIM coverage is meant to protect you by bridging the gap between the total cost of the accident and the limits of the at-fault driver’s liability coverage. 

Go After the At-Fault Driver’s Personal Wealth 

If you’ve exhausted the limits on all available insurance policies but still have outstanding costs from the accident, you or your attorney can go after the at-fault driver’s personal assets by filing a lawsuit. Assuming your lawsuit is successful, you can get a judgment for the remaining costs, then recover that amount by garnishing the defendant’s wages or putting a lien on their property. 

Unfortunately, the at-fault driver may not have enough personal wealth to fully cover your losses, or they may declare bankruptcy to avoid paying the judgment. In those situations, you may not be able to collect compensation above the insurance policy limits. 

Prove Reckless Driving 

In a typical negligence claim, you’re entitled to recover compensatory damages that include all your economic and noneconomic losses. If the driver was not only negligent but reckless, however, you may be entitled to much more compensation in the form of punitive damages.  

Juries award punitive damages in cases where the at-fault driver exhibited “willful misconduct, fraud, wantonness, malice, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences.” O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b). Under Georgia law, reckless driving meets this standard.  

You can prove reckless driving when the person caused an accident by driving “any vehicle in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property.” O.C.G.A.§ 40-6-350. Some examples of reckless driving include excessive speeding, street racing, weaving in and out of lanes rapidly, tailgating, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI).  

Whether an at-fault driver meets the criteria for reckless driving depends on the circumstances. For example, there’s no specific number or threshold for determining whether speeding should be classified as reckless. You could be charged with reckless driving for traveling 30 mph over the speed limit in a residential area or 100 mph on the interstate, and if people are present, you’re far more likely to be charged. 

Even though DUI is a separate criminal charge in Georgia, a driver can be charged with both DUI and reckless driving after an accident. If the driver is guilty of reckless driving only (i.e., no DUI or other intentional act), however, punitive damages are capped at $250,000. That means that your attorney can demand compensatory damages for your costs as well as punitive damages for up to $250,000, and the insurance company must exhaust the policy limit to pay a valid claim. If the accident was caused by drunk driving, there is no cap on punitive damages. 

Note that some insurance policies contain an exclusion for punitive damages. If the at-fault driver’s policy has such an exclusion, you can file a claim for compensatory damages but will have to file a lawsuit against the driver to recover punitive damages. You can also file a lawsuit against the driver if your damages exceed the policy limit, as discussed above. If you win the lawsuit, the driver must pay punitive damages from their personal assets. 

Prove Bad Faith 

Another way to recover compensation above insurance policy limits is by proving the carrier acted in bad faith. All insurance carriers have a legal duty to exercise good faith and fair dealings when handling claims, whether they’re filed by the insured or an injured third party. To protect the insured under the terms of the policy, the carrier must pay losses that it owes in a timely manner. 

When an injured victim files a claim against an at-fault driver’s policy, Georgia law requires the insurance company to investigate and negotiate a settlement within a reasonable period, and the settlement must compensate the victim for all costs up to the policy limit.  

There are many ways for an insurance company to act in bad faith, including unnecessary or unreasonable delays in handling a claim, conducting an inadequate investigation, refusing to acknowledge facts, using deceptive practices, refusing to pay covered losses, refusing to defend a lawsuit, interpreting the policy in an unreasonable way, and refusing to make a timely and reasonable settlement offer. 

If there’s evidence that the insurance carrier has acted in bad faith, you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver seeking damages above the policy limit. Once the case goes to trial, the jury is free to award any amount of compensation it sees fit—it’s not limited by the policy or any statutory cap. 

Keep in mind that a bad faith claim belongs to the insured and is typically brought after a judgment is entered, though it’s common practice for the insured to assign the bad faith claim to a victim/plaintiff in exchange for an agreement not to seek compensation against the insured for any deficiency. 

Consultations Are Free at The Millar Law Firm 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, you should speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer about your claim and compensation options. Our attorneys know how to find all available insurance coverage and can help you determine whether you’re entitled to compensation above policy limits. Call The Millar Law Firm at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys. 

- D. Lo
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