Uninsured Motorist Coverage – What is it and Why You Must Have It

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Since 1997, I have interviewed thousands of victims of motor vehicle accidents as an attorney who specializes in Personal Injury Law in Los Angeles. It never ceases to amaze me just how many of these people either do not carry any uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, or simply don’t carry enough.

Let’s start by defining the difference between underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage, which you buy as part of an automobile liability policy, covers your vehicle’s occupants in the event the negligent party that caused the accident didn’t have any coverage. Your uninsured motorist coverage acts as a substitute for the person who caused the accident and provides the necessary coverage.

Clients often express concern when I discuss their pursuit of uninsured motorist claims. They fear they will raise their premiums. They will increase my premiums!” They will raise my premiums!” This is 100% false. This is absolutely false. This explanation almost always leads to a sigh of relief.

Underinsured Motorist coverage is the coverage that “kicks in”, after the negligent party has submitted its policy limits, which are not sufficient to compensate the insured. To be eligible for coverage, the UM Limits must exceed the policy limits of defendants. This is how it works:

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Bob is insured by Auto Insurance Company #1 with UM limits of $100,000.00. Joe, who is insured with Auto Insurance Company 2, rearends him in a horrible accident. Joe’s maximum liability is only $15,000.00. Bob has $20,000.00 in medical bills. In addition, he has lost thousands of dollars. Auto Insurance Company #2 is likely to offer Joe $15,000.00 in settlement. Bob can accept that offer and file a claim for Auto Insurance Company #1’s Underinsured Motorist benefits for up to $85,000.00 ($100,000.00 less $15,000.00).

You can see the importance of having sufficient UM coverage from the example above. A day spent in hospital can cost as little as $10,000.00. My clients should have as much UM coverage as possible. This coverage is vital. It amazes me how many policies have UM coverage or less coverage than the liability coverage. These people always hear me say the same thing: “Does it not surprise that people you don’t know or care about are insured for substantially more (sometimes up to $100,000.00) than you and those who travel in your car? Every time I get this response, it’s always the same: “I’m going call my agent as soon I leave your office to increase my coverage.”

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UM Coverage protects you and your loved ones even if you are not in your car. It applies to any “Motor Vehicle Accident” in which these individuals are involved. This covers situations in which you are a passenger in another person’s vehicle and the insurance does not cover your injuries. You and your family members will be covered if you are hit as pedestrians, cyclists, or outside cafe patrons by drunk drivers. You and your family have never experienced such a safety net. Your UM coverage will be available for you if your injury was caused by a motor vehicle accident.

California Law requires that you have UM coverage from your Insurance Company with limits equal to those in the underlying policy. California Insurance Code 11580.2 (a). Although it is not required that you buy it, the Insurance Company must have you sign a waiver of such coverage. Your Insurance Company may not provide this coverage if you cause an accident with an uninsured motorist. In that case, you will be responsible for paying up to $30,000.00 per person and $60,000.00 per incident depending on your policy. Click here to enter Ins. Co. vs. Mulleague (1987), 196 Cal App. 3d 528, 241 Cal. Rptr. 846.

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Uninsured drivers can cause more serious accidents than those with UM coverage. Uninsured drivers are more likely to drive without a license, drink while driving, or speed at high speeds. You could be left with huge medical bills and lost earnings if you are in one of these collisions and you don’t have enough UM coverage.

I hope everyone who reads this article will review their insurance policies and consider increasing their UM coverage. It will surprise you at how affordable the increase is and will provide you and your family with the peace of mind you deserve.