Posted : 10/17/2008
If you're in an accident and the other driver is uninsured or underinsured, will you be covered? If you have uninsured/underinsured motorist protection (UM/UIM), the answer is probably "yes." Many auto insurance industry experts recommend choosing this option. You might think that because your state requires insurance, most people have it. However, according to the Insurance Research Council, the estimated number of uninsured drivers can reach 25% in some states.
Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage can pay for injuries to you and your passengers, and in some locations damage to your property, when there is an accident and the other driver is both legally responsible for the accident and considered "uninsured" or "underinsured."
An uninsured driver is someone who did not have any insurance, had insurance that did not meet state-mandated minimum liability requirements, or whose insurance company denied their claim or was not financially able to pay it. A hit-and-run driver also counts as uninsured as it relates to bodily injury (UMBI).
An underinsured driver is someone who met minimum legal financial responsibility requirements, but did not have payment limits high enough to cover the damage they caused. In these cases, UM or UIM can pay you for your damages. It is important to note that uninsured and underinsured motorist protections are separate, although in many states they can or must be purchased together.
A handful of states mandate purchase of UM/UIM, but most do not. If you purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist protection, your UM/UIM payment limits usually must comply with the state minimum but can't exceed your liability limits. If your state and company allow uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD) coverage, it can't be purchased without UMBI. Also, note that if you're in an accident and try to settle payment with the other driver by yourself, you won't be able to file a claim for UM/UIM protection. It's always best, regardless of what's in your policy, to contact your insurance company for advice on how to handle an accident.
The Insurance Information Institute's Vice President, Carolyn Gorman, extols the virtues of UM/UIM. "You absolutely need this coverage, because, if you get into an accident with someone who is driving without insurance or doesn't have enough of it, you want to be made financially whole again. You have to protect yourself fiscally and physically, and uninsured/underinsured motorist protection can help you in that regard."
It's usually relatively cheap to add uninsured/underinsured motorist protection to your car insurance policy, especially considering the amount of protection it offers. It could pay your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If someone hits you or your car and is legally responsible for the damages, you won't get any money from them if they don't have money to give you. Especially during times when people are struggling economically, many drivers either don't have insurance or don't have enough. If you have UM/UIM, you can get money even if the other driver can't pay.
Underinsured motorist protection pays you for damages that exceed the payment limits carried by a driver who is considered underinsured. UIM will only pay up to the limits of your policy after subtracting the amount paid by the other driver's insurance. This means that the amount listed as your UIM limit is the total amount paid by both insurance companies, not the additional amount your company will pay after the other driver's company pays. Both UM and UIM apply to you and any passengers in your car, and to you and others listed on your insurance policy (including family members) when in other cars.
Uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD) coverage may seem strange, especially considering many people already have collision coverage on their car insurance. However, for careful drivers who don't have collision coverage, UMPD can be a good way to protect their car from uninsured drivers without raising their premium a lot. In addition, a lower deductible for UMPD is frequently cheaper than collision coverage with the same low deductible. UMPD does not apply in hit-and-run accidents, because UMPD coverage is cheaper than collision coverage-making it very tempting for some drivers to make a "hit-and-run" claim under their UM coverage instead of their collision coverage, or to purchase UM coverage and not have collision coverage at all.
Uninsured motorist bodily injury (UMBI) protection can help you in another way. "Let's say you're a pedestrian. If you carry this coverage and you get hit by a car while you're trying to cross the street, the coverage could pay your medical expenses and lost wages," says Gorman. That could be important, because even if you have medical payments coverage and health insurance, those still won't pay for lost wages. You could get coverage for your lost wages by purchasing disability insurance, which many people have through their employer, but it would not cover your passengers or family members, and could disappear if you switch jobs. In addition to protecting you as a pedestrian, UM/UIM can also protect you and your family members traveling in other cars. As Nicole Mahrt of the American Insurance Association says, "You probably can't afford to drive without it."
Looking for different information? Have questions or comments? Please let us know.
Originally posted September 17, 2004.
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