Law Review: Coverage for the unexpected: Uninsured, underinsured motorist insurance
The collective gasp of the readership is deafening. But fear not. Venerable Law Review columnist Jim Porter is neither dead, nor has he lost his mind – though the latter has been the subject of contentious debate for years. No. Jim is merely off on an adventure and asked that I cover in his stead. So, cover I humbly shall with some commentary on coverage.
PREPARING FOR YOUR SUMMER ADVENTURE
With summer travel nearing its peak, the regrettable possibility of traffic accidents is ever present. Though there is often little you can do to avoid collision with a negligent driver, you can control the potential insurance proceeds available to you if you are injured in an auto accident by an uninsured or underinsured driver. The key is understanding, and possibly increasing, your uninsured/underinsured motorist (“UM/UIM”) insurance coverage.
UM/UIM coverage is an insurance policy or policy endorsement that provides an injured driver (or passenger) with additional insurance coverage in the event the injuries or damages caused by the at-fault driver monetarily exceed that driver’s auto insurance liability limits (i.e. underinsured motorist) or are not covered because the other driver is uninsured (i.e. uninsured motorist).
DON’T WORRY, YOU’RE ALREADY (PARTIALLY) COVERED
If you own a motor vehicle in California or Nevada it is likely you have UM/UIM coverage, because it is mandatory for auto insurers in both states to provide such coverage, unless you opt out in writing. But the UM/UIM coverage offered need only equal the limits of the liability insurance purchased, which in California can be as low as $15,000 for bodily injury to or death of one person in any one accident and $30,000 for bodily injury to or death of two or more persons in any one accident; in Nevada the minimums are $25,000 and $50,000, respectively.
Though not insignificant, minimum insurance often leaves victims of auto accidents sorely undercompensated for injuries and damages suffered, which can include past and future medical bills, lost income, and general pain and suffering. By way of example, if a person is injured by a negligent driver who carries California’s minimum $15,000 per person liability insurance and the injured person only has $15,000 in UM/UIM coverage, the total insurance proceeds available to the injured person may be limited to the $15,000 from the at-fault driver. This is because California’s UM/UIM laws prohibit an injured person from claiming their UM/UIM coverage unless the amount is greater than the liability insurance amount carried by the at-fault driver. Nevada is more forgiving and permits recovery of UM/UIM benefits even where the policy amount is equal to or less than the at-fault driver’s liability policy amount.
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
With most drivers carrying only minimum liability insurance, you can hedge against the risk of being injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver by increasing the policy amount of your UM/UIM coverage. Check your auto insurance policy’s “declarations” page to determine the amount of your UM/UIM coverage and, if it seems insufficient, speak with your insurance agent about purchasing more coverage.
There are few things more unpredictable or frightening than an auto accident, but with UM/UIM coverage you can provide a degree certainty and protection in the event of the unexpected. Check your policy, cover yourself and be safe on the roads out there.
Ravn R. Whitington is a partner at Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada. Ravn is a member of the firm’s Trial Practice Group where he focuses on all aspects of civil litigation. He has a diverse background in trial practice ranging from complex business disputes to personal injury to construction law, and all matters in between. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com
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