Uninsured Motorist Claims
If you are injured in an accident that was caused by a driver with no car insurance, you can make an uninsured motorist claim under your insurance policy. In the insurance biz, these types of claims are commonly called “UM” claims.
When Can You Make An Uninsured Motorist Claim?
You can make an uninsured motorist claim in these 3 situations:
- 1. If you were injured in an accident that was caused by a driver who has no insurance.
2. If you were injured in an accident caused by a “hit and run” or “phantom” driver who was never identified.
3. If you were injured in an accident caused by a driver who has insurance, but does not have enough insurance to pay all of the damages you are entitled to recover.
Let’s look at each of these situations a little more closely . . .
The Driver Who Caused Your Accident Had No Insurance
Wait a minute, you may be thinking, isn’t car insurance required in every state? Surely, there can’t be many drivers who don’t have insurance.
Not true. Even though insurance (or its equivalent) is required in all states, there are still people who drive without insurance.
How many? No one knows for sure. However, each year, the Insurance Research Council, an insuranceindustry group, estimates the number of uninsured drivers, by state.
The IRC estimates that in 2009 roughly 1 out of every 7 drivers on the road had no insurance coverage.
The highest number of uninsured motorists was in Mississippi (an astounding 28 percent!), followed by New Mexico (26 percent) and a three-way tie among Tennessee, Oklahoma and Florida (all at 24 percent). Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of the estimated percentage of uninsured drivers on the highways in 2009.
This is precisely why you should purchase uninsured motorist coverage as part of your insurance policy, to protect you if an uninsured motorist damages you vehicle and injures you.
In fact, some states require UM coverage. If your state does not, get it anyway.
Your Accident Was Caused By A Hit And Run Driver
UM coverage also applies, and you can make an uninsured motorist claim, if the driver who caused your accident leaves the scene and is never identified.
What is required to prove this type of claim is specified in your insurance policy, but it probably includes a police report so be sure to call the police if you are in a hit and run accident.
The Driver Who Caused Your Accident Did Not Have Enough Insurance
Although every states requires car insurance or its equivalent, the amounts required are, in many cases, far too low to cover all damages caused.
Here’s a state-by-state list of liability insurance minimum requirements:
(The first number is the injury maximum amount per person, the second number is the maximum amount per accident and the final number is the amount of coverage for property damage.)
- Alaska 50/100/25
New Hampshire 25/50/25
New Jersey 15/30/5
New Mexico 25/50/10
New York 25/50/10
North Carolina 30/60/25
North Dakota 25/50/25
Rhode Island 25/50/25
South Carolina 25/50/25
South Dakota 25/50/25
West Virginia 20/40/10
(Laws change, so be sure to double check the requirements in your state.)
Since these requirements are so low, it is common for drivers who cause accidents to have the legally required amount of insurance but not have enough insurance to pay all the damage the driver causes.
Once again, uninsured motorist coverage comes to the rescue.
Actually, in this situation, the coverage is commonly called “underinsured motorist coverage” or “UIM.” In some states, this is a separate coverage from UM insurance. In other states, your UM coverage is automatically also UIM coverage.
Here’s how it works . . .
Assume that you are injured in a car accident and that your injuries fairly entitle you to damages of $100,000. Also assume that the person who caused the accident has liability insurance coverage of $25,000 and that you have UM/UIM coverage of $50,000.
Based on these assumptions, you would recover $25,000 from the liability insurance carrier. What happens next would depend on the law of your state.
Some states have a system where you “add on” your UIM limit to the amount you recover from the at-fault driver’s liability insurance. In my example, this system would allow you to recover $50,000 in UIM benefits, making your total recovery $75,000. (You would not be compensated for the final $25,000 of damages that you incurred.)
Other states have a “difference in limits” system under which you could only recover from your insurance company the difference between the liability insurance policy limit of $25,000 and your UIM coverage limit. In other words, in my example, you would only recover $25,000 from your insurance company, making your total recovery $50,000.
If you insured multiple vehicles, you may have additional UM/UIM coverage under something called “stacking” which is discussed briefly below.
Uninsured Motorist Claim Tips
My most important tip is to purchase UM/UIM insurance coverage. In my practice, I have seen countless times where this coverage has made the difference between a fair recovery and a financial disaster for my clients.
I also recommend that you consult with a lawyer if you have an uninsured motorist claim.
As you can see, this stuff can get very tricky . . . and I haven’t even raised all of the complications. For example, there are specified ways that these claims have to be made, and those ways vary from state to state. A misstep can defeat your claim.
Another complexity is that some states allow you to “stack” your UM/UIM coverages and some don’t. Without going in to detail, this means that if you insure two vehicles, for example, and have UM/UIM coverage on both, some states allow you to add, or stack, the amount of both coverages, resulting in a much higher maximum recovery. Other states prohibit this.
Whether UM/UIM insurance covers property damage (damage to your car) is another variable.
Get the idea? This stuff is too complicated for a do-it-yourself effort. Consult with a lawyer about your uninsured motorist claim.