Accidents with Uninsured and Underinsured Drivers

Car Accident Lawyer Atlanta, GA

Different kinds of coverage are available to people who buy auto insurance. Collision insurance covers damage to a car caused by a collision. Comprehensive insurance covers damage to a car caused by other events, such as falling branches and vandalism. Medical payments insurance covers your medical expenses if you are injured in a car accident. Those coverages are subject to maximum payment limits and to deductibles (the amount you must pay out of your own pocket before insurance will pay anything).

The most important kind of car insurance is called liability insurance (also known as bodily injury insurance). It protects drivers and vehicle owners from claims for compensation arising out of accidents caused by their negligent driving. Liability insurance coverage  is required by every state in the country except New Hampshire.

Unfortunately, not all drivers obey the law. Even when drivers purchase liability insurance, they do not always purchase adequate coverage to pay compensation for serious injuries. When drivers so not have adequate coverage, injury victims are at risk of receiving no compensation for their injuries. The only way for drivers to be certain that they will be compensated if they are injured in an accident caused by another driver is to purchase uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.

Uninsured Drivers

An insurance industry study recently found that 13% of all drivers in the United States are driving without liability insurance. While the problem of uninsured drivers is nationwide, it is a bigger problem in some states than in others. Only 4.5% of drivers in Maine are uninsured, while 26.7% of drivers in Florida have no liability insurance. The states with the highest percentage of uninsured drivers, after Florida, are:

  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • Michigan
  • Tennessee
  • Alabama

While New Hampshire does not require most drivers to carry liability insurance, only 9.9% of New Hampshire drivers are uninsured. By contrast, about 12% of Georgia drivers and 15% of California drivers are uninsured.

Underinsured Drivers

State laws that require drivers to carry liability insurance impose a minimum amount of coverage that drivers must purchase. Laws generally require one amount of bodily injury coverage for an injury to one person and a higher collective amount for injuries to more than one person. Most states also require a minimum amount of property damage insurance.

For example, Georgia requires drivers to purchase at least $25,000 of bodily injury coverage for an accident that injures a single victim, $50,000 of total bodily injury coverage for all the victims of a single accident, and $25,000 to cover property damage claims. Insurance agents refer to the Georgia minimum as 25/50/25 coverage.

Some states, like Florida (10/20/10) require lower coverage limits. Some states, like Maine (50/100/25) require higher limits. Regardless of state law, drivers should generally purchase as much insurance as they can afford. A traffic accident that causes a serious injury might easily result in a judgment against the responsible driver for more than $100,000. Drivers place their assets at risk if they are held responsible for compensation of $100,000 but only have $25,000 of insurance coverage.

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Accident victims who are injured by the negligence of uninsured drivers can sue the driver for compensation, but most uninsured drivers have few assets that can be used to satisfy a judgment. After all, if they had assets to protect, they would probably buy insurance. Since they are “judgment proof,” they might ignore a judgment for damages or discharge it in bankruptcy.

The best way to protect yourself from uninsured drivers is to purchase uninsured motorist coverage. When the driver who is responsible for an accident is uninsured (or if the accident is caused by a hit-and-run driver), the injured driver can bring a claim for compensation against the driver’s own insurance company, up to the limits of the uninsured motorist coverage that the injured driver purchased. Drivers assure themselves that funds will be available to cover their lost wages, medical expenses, and other losses by purchasing uninsured motorist coverage.

Underinsured motorist coverage helps injured drivers who deserve compensation that exceeds the responsible driver’s insurance limits. For example, if an injured driver should receive $40,000 as full compensation but the responsible driver’s bodily injury limits are $25,000, the injured driver’s underinsured motorist coverage will pay the difference.

About twenty states require drivers to purchase uninsured motorist coverage. A few states also require drivers to purchase underinsured motorist coverage. The goal of those states is to assure that injured drivers do not need to rely on public services if they become destitute after an accident.

It is usually wise to purchase the same limits for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage as the policy’s bodily injury limits. Insurance companies will not generally sell higher limits for uninsured/underinsured coverage than the liability limits that the policyholder purchases.

One advantage of having uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is that a driver’s own insurance company, unlike other insurance companies, has a duty to negotiate a settlement in good faith. An injury victim’s personal injury lawyer, like a car accident lawyer Atlanta, GA trusts, will often encounter less resistance when negotiating a settlement that must be paid by the injury victim’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, as opposed to settling with another driver’s insurance company.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Butler Law Firm for their insight into uninsured and underinsured drivers.