Phantom Motor Vehicles in Wisconsin. Can You Bring a Claim?

It is not uncommon for people to be injured in what are known as "miss and run" accidents. These are accidents where, for example, another driver crosses the center line and forces the victim off the road causing a serious accident. The identity of the driver who crossed the center line is unknown and there was no contact between the victim's vehicle and the negligent driver's vehicle. Under Governor Walker, a new statutory requirement has been passed that makes it more difficult for a person injured in such an accident to make a claim against his insurance company under his uninsured motorist coverage. Traditionally, such claims have been brought pursuant to uninsured motorist coverage because there is no insurance company for the at-fault driver to file a claim against, since the identity of the other driver is unknown.

The new statutory provisions require prompt action by the injured person in a situation like this. First, the injured person or someone on behalf of the injured person must notify the police within 72 hours. Second, the facts of the accident must be corroborated by someone other than the injured person or by someone other than the person who is making a claim against the uninsured motorist coverage in the accident. Third, the insured must provide a statement under oath to his or her insurance company within 30 days of the accident, and the statement must include a statement that the victim has a claim arising out of the accident for damages against another individual whose identity is unknown and cannot be discovered. Fourth, the statement must set forth the relevant facts in support of this statement.

These changes appear to create several problems and causes for concern. First, even if the insurance company has actual knowledge of the facts of the accident, for example by receipt of a police report or a Department of Motor Vehicles accident report, it can still avoid coverage if the insured fails to comply with the above requirements. If a person is seriously injured and is unable to comply with these requirements, the insurance company apparently is relieved from having to provide the coverage that the insured has been paying for. In addition, if the injured party does not have any witness to the facts of the accident, it is unclear how the facts of the accident can be corroborated by someone other than the insured. Again, this would appear to have the potential of depriving an innocent insured who has been severely injured from coverage merely because he did not have a passenger in his vehicle or an eyewitness to the accident. It does appear possible, however, that the facts of the accident could be corroborated by an accident reconstructionist, a law enforcement officer who investigated the accident, or another expert who may be able to provide sufficient foundation to corroborate the facts of the accident as alleged by the insured. It will be important for the public to be aware of these changes and requirements and to be able to act promptly in the event that they are seriously injured in an accident where the other driver's identity cannot be ascertained.