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North Carolina's Contact Rule

Did you know North Carolina has a "contact" rule? If you are run off the road by another driver and your vehicles do not come into contact with one another, you may be out of luck as far as getting your harms and losses paid for. North Carolina law requires, in the case where the other driver does not stop and cannot be identified, that there be actual contact between the vehicles before your uninsured motorist coverage will apply.

Although NC law requires liability insurance, the reality is many drivers on the road lack liability insurance to pay for harm they may cause. Fortunately, since 2009 every policy of personal auto insurance issued in North Carolina requires coverage for those situations. That coverage is called Uninsured Motorists or "UM" coverage (not to be confused with Under-Insured Motorists or "UIM" coverage, which applies when the at-fault driver has some insurance coverage, but not enough for the harm caused).

North Carolina law requires that all policies have a minimum of $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident of UM coverage for injury and $25,000 for property damage, with the option to select higher limits. This coverage pays for damage to your car, medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages resulting from your injuries. In essence, the UM coverage on your policy steps into the shoes of the uninsured at-fault driver and pays damages that person could be held responsible for under the law, with a few exceptions.

Some "hit and run" situations are among the exceptions. In order to have a valid UM claim in NC in a hit and run situation, you must prove "contact." The "contact" rule does not require the hit-and-run motorist contact your car. As long as the hit-and-run motorist contacts some vehicle or object which contacts your car, then you can be covered under your Uninsured Motorist coverage. Two different scenarios can show how that plays out. Let's say you are driving to Wednesday night church, and your pastor happens to be traveling behind you in his car. As you enter a curve, an oncoming car is over the center line and heading towards you. If that vehicle hits your car, but doesn't stop and leaves the scene never to be identified, you have a valid UM claim for any injury. That's because you have the physical contact between the hit and run vehicle and your own. Alternatively, if you swerve to avoid the car and there's no contact, but you end up going off the road damaging your car or being hurt, there is no UM coverage. This is true even if your pastor would swear under oath that you did nothing wrong and had to swerve or be hit head on. This can leave you with medical expenses out of your own pocket.

Requiring contact for a valid UM claim is designed to prevent fraud, so a person can't simply wreck their vehicle on their own and falsely claim another driver caused it. A trend in other states to combat potential fraud, but allow UM coverage, is by allowing a UM claim with no contact if there is an independent witness or other corroborating evidence. To date, NC has not followed that trend and we remain a strict "contact" state.

Furthermore, where you have a claim for property damage - as opposed to your injury claim - contact alone is not enough. A valid UM claim for property damage requires both contact and the identification of the uninsured driver responsible. Of course, this discussion is about UM coverage and not collision coverage, which has different requirements.

Facts in specific situations can result in different answers, and this basic description of UM coverage does not cover all scenarios. If you find yourself in an unfortunate situation like the ones described, seek legal advice for your particular situation. And remember, to protect yourself against drivers who lack sufficient insurance you should review your current coverage with your agent and purchase protection such as Uninsured Motorists and Underinsured Motorists coverage in high enough limits to cover you and your family.


By: Mike Adkins
Practice Areas: auto accidents, personal injury, traffic tickets and motor vehicle law, wrongful death

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