Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage in Georgia
If you have suffered an injury because of a car accident, the first thing you should do is go to the doctor and begin medical care. Once you begin your recovery, you’ll want to learn what car insurance is available to pay for that medical care, your pain, and your lost time from work. There are two types of insurance that will help you: the other driver’s car insurance which is called “liability insurance coverage”, and your own auto insurance which is called “uninsured motorist insurance” or “underinsured motorist coverage.” But what is uninsured motorist coverage?
What is Liability Insurance in Georgia?
Liability coverage is the type of insurance that the state requires you to buy. If you’re in a wreck, and you’re at fault, your liability coverage will be available to anyone injured by your mistake. In other words, liability insurance is for the other guy. The minimum amount of liability insurance varies from state to state, but in Georgia, the minimum is $25,000—meaning that every driver on the road is required by law to have at least $25,000 in liability coverage, with the option of buying more. So theoretically, if you’re in a wreck that another driver caused, there should be at least $25,000 available to you. There can be problems, however—sometimes the other driver hasn’t purchased the insurance that the state requires, and even if he has, $25,000 may not go very far with the high cost of modern medicine. Unless the at-fault driver is independently wealthy, therefore, you could be facing a shortage of funds when you need them most.
What does liability insurance cover in Georgia?
Auto liability insurance covers the injuries and the damage that another driver causes to someone else. The minimum amount of liability insurance that each driver must have in order to legally be allowed to drive depends on the state that the person lives in. In Georgia, the minimum amount of insurance is at least $25,000 per person in each accident and $50,000 total per accident.
This means that if you are hit by another driver, that driver should have at least $25,000 in car insurance. So if Driver A strikes Driver B, and Driver B has a passenger in his car, then under Driver A’s insurance, $25,000 is available to Driver B, and $25,000 is available to Driver B’s passenger. However, should and does are two different words. While Georgia requires that drivers carry insurance, not every driver does. And while that’s a criminal offense, the fact that the other driver should have had insurance does not help you very much. Some drivers ignore their responsibility and drive without insurance. In other cases, drivers do pay for the $25,000 insurance coverage but the damage they cause far exceeds the $25,000 minimum limit. When either of these situations happens, your own auto insurance can step in and help. A good car accident lawyer knows how to read car insurance policies and stack them to maximize coverage.
What does uninsured / underinsured (“UM”) insurance cover in Georgia?
If you’re asking yourself “What is uninsured motorist coverage?”, our attorneys can tell you that “Uninsured motorist insurance”—also known as “underinsured motorist insurance” or “UM insurance”—is car insurance coverage for when the at-fault driver didn’t carry enough insurance. UM coverage protects you when you are hurt because of an accident, but the responsible driver either doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance to compensate you for what happened.
Let’s consider that example from earlier with driver A and driver B. What happens if Driver B suffers a devastating injury that requires surgery and extensive rehab, and Driver B’s passenger has no injuries or bruising? Obviously, the $25,000 in insurance that Driver A has is not enough to compensate Driver B for what happened. Can we give the whole $50,000 auto insurance policy to driver B since driver B’s passenger is fine? Unfortunately, the answer is no. In order for driver B to receive any more money for his injuries and pain, he needs a UM policy. If driver B has UM insurance, then his own insurance should step in and pay him the additional money. So for example, let’s say that driver B has $25,000 in UM insurance, then he will be able to collect the first $25,000 from driver A’s insurance and will then be able to collect another $25,000 from his own insurance company. A good injury lawyer knows when to file against a UM carrier, how to serve a UM carrier, and most importantly, how to name the insurance company in the lawsuit.
That’s where uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage comes in. If someone crashes into you, and that person either has no insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance to pay for your damages, your UM coverage can cover the difference. In short, UM insurance is for you. For example, pretend that someone wrongfully rear-ends you at a red light and causes $100,000 in damages. Pretend the at-fault driver has only $25,000 in liability coverage available to you, leaving you $75,000 short. In Georgia, if you have purchased UM coverage, your UM coverage can fill the gap. For instance, if you had purchased $75,000 in added-on UM coverage, you could recover the full $100,000. If you had purchased only $50,000 in added-on UM coverage, you could recover a total of $75,000. So, if you’re looking out for yourself, buying UM coverage is a good idea. (Usually, you can only buy as much UM coverage as you have in liability coverage—for example, if you want $100,000 in UM coverage, you have to also buy $100,000 in liability coverage.)
Facts about Uninsured / Underinsured (“UM”) Insurance
- If you were not at fault, using your UM insurance should not increase your premium or result in the cancellation of your auto insurance policy. O.C.G.A. § 33-9-40.
- While liability insurance is mandatory, UM insurance is optional.
- When you’ve answered the question “What is uninsured motorist coverage?” and you decide that you do want UM insurance, make sure you ask for the “Add On” UM insurance versus the “Reduced” UM insurance. An “add on” policy means that you get to add whatever amount of UM insurance you have to the other driver’s insurance. A “reduced” policy means you deduct your UM insurance from the striking driver’s insurance and whatever amount is left over is what is available to you to collect. So for example, if driver A hits driver B, and driver A has $100,000 in liability insurance and driver B has $50,000 in add-on UM insurance, then driver B may be able to collect a total of $150,000 in insurance. However, if Driver A has $100,000 in liability insurance and Driver B has $50,000 in reduced UM insurance, then Driver B only can collect a total of $100,000 in insurance. Make sure your personal injury lawyer requests all policies. In some situations, it’s possible to stack, which means adding the policies on top of each other.
- When you select your UM policy and you’re asked to pick whether you want an add-on or a reduced policy, the default selection is that you will get an add-on policy. If the insurance company cannot produce a written election where you outright rejected the add-on choice, then you should automatically have an add-on policy. O.C.G.A. §33-7- 11 (b)(1)(D)(2)(II).
- Your UM insurance goes with you wherever you go. Your UM insurance protects you whether you’re driving, sitting as a passenger in someone else’s car, or walking in the street.
- If you live with someone and that person has UM insurance, you may qualify under that person’s policy as a “resident relative”.
Medical Payments (“Med Pay”) Insurance
Medical payments (“med pay”) coverage is another way for you to look out for yourself and your loved ones. While liability or UM coverage can apply to any type of damages—for instance, medical bills or lost wages—med pay coverage applies only to medical bills. It often provides a way for you to get your medical bills paid fast. If you’re in a wreck and you need money for medical expenses quickly, the other driver’s liability insurance may not be much help if the other driver’s insurer moves slowly—which happens a lot. UM coverage may not cut the mustard either because insurers sometimes refuse to pay out UM benefits until the liability insurer has paid its share. In that situation—when liability and UM insurance money is slow in coming—med pay coverage could give you the money that you need at the time when you need it.
What a Georgia Insurance Lawyer Knows
Most of the time our clients come to us without knowing what car insurance they have. And that’s okay—we know what to do about it. We know how to make insurance companies prove to us what insurance they have, and in what amounts. We also know how to look for other insurance that may be available, like umbrella policies or resident relative policies, to cover the collision.
The point is: you don’t need to be an expert in auto insurance law, because we are. If you have been hurt in an automotive accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist call us for a free consultation. Yes, we know the answer to “What is uninsured motorist coverage?” and know the law and know how to win in court, but just as importantly we pride ourselves on our accessibility to our clients. Google us and you’ll find glowing 5-star reviews. Contact our Georgia car accident lawyer today.