In California the answer to this question is based on the passing of proposition 213.
Failure to have insurance at the time of a car crash
Proposition 213 and Accidents
Proposition 213 essentially states that if you have been involved in an accident which is not your fault, yet you failed to have insurance, then recovery is limited to economic harm. In other words you will not be able to assert a claim for your emotional damages and pain and suffering. Thus, your damages will be limited to your medical bills, loss of income and anything, which is directly economical.
How does this affect me?
Simply stated if you are un-insured and are involved in an auto accident, Proposition 213 limits your recovery to economical harm. Insurance companies have essentially found a back door to avoid liability. If you have been involved in an auto accident and did not have insurance at the time your recovery may be limited.
What should I do if I did not have insurance at the time of the accident?
You should consider all of your option and asses your recovery costs. While recovery cannot be had for emotional distress, you can recover for other economic damage. What is considered economic damage? Economic damage can include loss of income, vehicle damage and medical costs associated with the injury.
Should I get an attorney?
If you have a small claim under $1,500 in damages, you should try and settle the matter on your own. After paying attorney fees you may not be left with any substantial amount of money and many attorneys may not consider representation for such small amounts. However, if the damages are greater the $1,500 it may be best to consider representation by counsel. Insurance companies are more inclined to settle for greater amounts when legal representation is provided. Otherwise it is possible that your settlement amount can be diminished.