So you’re a conscientious, responsible driver and have auto liability insurance to protect yourself in case of a vehicle accident? Good for you! That means that if you’re involved in an accident that is your fault and someone else is injured or damaged, your insurance steps in and takes care of compensating the other person so that the costs don’t come out of your pocket – which in the case of a serious injury could result in a devastating financial burden on you and lead to you losing your savings, your house and even having to declare bankruptcy.
However, what happens when YOU are the one in an accident that’s someone else’s fault and it’s YOU that is injured, and what if the other driver at fault – not as responsible and conscientious as you – either has NO insurance or has TOO LITTLE insurance to cover your injuries, bills and losses? This situation could be just as devastating as the first example – unless you have UNINSURED and/or UNDERINSURED (UM/UIM) motorist coverage under your own Policy. This is not a far-fetched scenario because nationwide, some 13% (1 in 8) drivers are uninsured, and closer to home - along the central Gulf Coast, that percentage is significantly higher – e.g. 26.7% in Florida, 23.7% in Mississippi and 18.4% in Alabama. (This is despite the fact that many states “require” all drivers to have insurance.)
What Is Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
Uninsured motorist coverage is insurance protection contained in your own policy that compensates you for bodily injuries including medical bills, lost wages and pain/suffering in the event you are in an accident caused by someone who has no insurance, including hit and run drivers who cannot be located. In such a case, your insurance essentially acts as the other driver’s insurance to compensate you for your damages. Underinsured motorist coverage is essentially the same thing, but comes into application if the other driver has some insurance, but not enough to adequately compensate you.
The laws regarding Uninsured / Underinsured motorist coverage vary from state to state, with some states requiring that you have such coverage and other states requiring that every policy holder be given the option of purchasing such coverage. Some coverages just apply to bodily injuries and others apply to collision/vehicle damage as well, so that you won’t have to pay a deductible for getting your vehicle repaired.
Should I Have Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
The short answer is YES! The cost of the coverage is relatively small, with the basic (lowest) coverage being generally available for around 5% of your regular vehicle premium – e.g. if your yearly premium is $800, you can usually obtain UM/UIM coverage for an additional $40 or so. This is cheap protection when you consider that if you’re injured in an accident on the central Gulf Coast, the chance that the other driver is not insured could be as high as 1 in 4 or greater.
If you’re not sure whether or not you have UM/UIM coverage, read your policy or contact your insurance agent to discuss and find out. If you do have the coverage, you may wish to increase that coverage beyond the minimum limits to make sure you and your family are better protected should you be injured.
What Does "Stacking" Mean When Applied To UM/UIM Coverage?
The question of “stacking” policies often comes up in claims involving uninsured / underinsured coverage. In many states, you are able to combine the UM/UIM coverage that you have on 1 vehicle with that of the other vehicles covered by your policy. For example, let’s say that you have $25,000 of UM/UIM coverage on the vehicle that you drive. That’s normally going to be all that you can recover if you’re injured by an uninsured motorist. However, if you also have $25,000 UM/UIM coverage on your spouse’s vehicle and the same coverage on your child’s vehicle, you can “stack” the limits for all 3 vehicles together, resulting in a total available coverage of $75,000, assuming that you’re in a state which allows for stacking. This benefit could be huge in the event you’re seriously injured.
How Do I Make a Claim For UM/UIM Overage?
First, it’s crucial to remember that you should report all accidents to your insurance company – even if it’s not your fault. Most policies require that you notify your insurance company within a short time period following an accident in order to be covered. Many times, you don’t immediately know whether you will need to rely on your insurance coverage, so you should always report the accident immediately to make sure that the insurance company doesn’t try to deny you later for failure to timely notify.
If you are involved in a “hit and run” accident or an accident involving an “uninsured” driver, you should immediately advise your insurance company that you wish to claim uninsured motorist benefits. If you’re involved in an accident caused by an insured driver, and it turns out that the driver does not have sufficient insurance to compensate you, then you will file an “underinsured” motorist claim with your own insurance company once that determination is made. (But again, you should have already notified your insurance company that the accident had occurred.)
Do I Need a Lawyer To Handle My UM/UIM Claim?
If at any time you, feel that your insurance company is not fairly treating you or properly handling your uninsured / underinsured motorist claim, or if you cannot determine whether that’s the case or not, or if you are otherwise unsatisfied with the way your claim is proceeding, you should consult a personal injury lawyer for information about your rights.