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What You Should Know About Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Insurance In California
Earlier this month, the car accident attorneys at the Piccuta Law Group settled an uninsured motorist claim for their client. The client, who is from Monterey, was in a car accident in downtown San Francisco. Three years earlier, the client was driving her Honda Civic heading southbound in the right lane on 19th Avenue between Buckingham Way and Holloway Avenue. The traffic light at the approaching intersection was green, and traffic was moving steady at 35–45 m.p.h.
The client was behind three other vehicles and was followed by another driver. The front-most vehicle slowed to take a parking spot, requiring vehicles two and three and our client to come to a stop. After applying her brakes, the client looked in her rearview mirror. She noticed that the driver behind her was still traveling at a high rate of speed and had not begun to slow down. The client then heard squealing tires as she was slammed into from behind.
The at-fault driver who crashed into our client’s vehicle did not have insurance. He initially pretended like he did. He contacted our client, apologized for the crash and told her he would return to his vehicle to retrieve his registration and insurance information. However, within moments of returning to his vehicle, he sped away from the scene. Thankfully, his license plate information was obtained and he was later found and held responsible.
What is Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
Uninsured motorist coverage is an insurance coverage that a driver obtains through his or her own automobile insurance company. It is typically sold with another coverage known as underinsured motorist coverage. The two coverages are typically referred to as “UM” and “UIM.”
If you are wondering if you have this coverage, you should examine your insurance declaration page. An insurance declaration page sets forth the coverages and limits of an insurance policy. If you have uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage, the coverages will usually be separated on the declaration page showing the limits of each coverage and the extra amounts paid for that coverage. Sometimes, the coverages will be listed as UM or UIM. If you are unsure, you should contact your insurance agent to see if you have this coverage.
Do I need Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
Under California law, you do not need to have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. However, the accident attorneys at the Piccuta Law Group strongly encourage everyone to obtain uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Unlike liability coverage, it is not required by law.
The accident attorneys at the Piccuta Law Group strongly encourage everyone to obtain uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
Automobile liability coverage is insurance coverage that allows payment of insurance benefits if an insured driver is found to be liable for causing injuries to another or damage to property as a result of a car accident. It is required by California law.
The minimum limits of the coverage are established by California Vehicle Code Section 16056(a). This Code section requires a vehicle or driver to have minimum bodily injury liability coverage of $15,000 for injury or death to one person and not less than $30,000 in bodily injury coverage for multiple individuals in any one accident. It also requires minimum property damage coverage of $5,000. Specifically, the law states:
…not less than fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000) because of bodily injury to or death of one person in any one accident and, subject to that limit for one person, to a limit of not less than thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) because of bodily injury to or death of two or more persons in any one accident, and, if the accident has resulted in injury to, or destruction of property, to a limit of not less than five thousand dollars ($5,000)…
However, these limits are for private passenger vehicles. Private passenger vehicles make up the majority of vehicles on the road. This includes the cars that you and your loved ones probably own. Other insurance requirements apply to commercial carriers such as buses and trucks that carry freight. You can learn more about insurance requirements for private vehicles through the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
According to the last study performed by the Insurance Information Institute, about 13.0% of motorists on the roads are uninsured. In that same study, California came in even higher with an uninsured motorist rate of 15.2%. These numbers were determined by examining the auto insurance claims reported and calculating how many of those involved an uninsured motorist. Based on these figures, approximately 1 in every 6.6 drivers in California is uninsured.
This is a staggering statistic and why the Monterey accident attorneys at the Piccuta Law Group strongly recommend that every driver on the road purchase uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage. Unlike liability coverage, which protects other drivers on the road from you—uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage protects you and the people you love most from everyone else.
Unlike liability coverage, which protects other drivers on the road from you—uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage protects you and the people you love most from everyone else.
If you have uninsured motorist coverage, and are injured in a car accident by an uninsured driver, then you are able to recover against your own insurance for your injuries. This includes not only you, but your loved ones or anyone else who was in your vehicle at the time of the car accident. However, when you do seek to recover from your own insurance company, you will quickly learn that the insurance company is going to treat you no differently than anyone else making a claim against it. In other words, the insurance company is going to question your injuries, make you jump through the hoops and try to resolve your claim for as little as possible. That is why it is important to have a skilled car accident attorney working for you when you are asserting an uninsured motorist claim.
How is Uninsured Motorist Coverage Different from Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
Uninsured motorist coverage, like its names suggests, is a coverage that you can use against drivers that are uninsured. On the other hand, underinsured motorist coverage, is a coverage you can use when the at fault driver who causes a car accident has insurance, but not enough. The majority of California drivers who have automobile insurance, only have the minimum limits. As discussed above, those limits are $15,000 if a single person is hurt in an accident and $30,000 if multiple individuals are injured in an accident.
On the other hand, underinsured motorist coverage, is a coverage you can use when the at fault driver who causes a car accident has insurance, but not enough.
This means that if someone with minimum coverage, causes a car accident and you are injured, the most you will be able to recover for those injuries is $15,000. However, this amount could be even lower if there are multiple people injured by an at-fault driver with minimum limits. Take the scenario where an at-fault driver, with minimum limits, causes a car accident that injures four people.
In that situation, the most those four people will be able to recover is a total of $30,000 between all of them, with no single person able to recover more than $15,000. In other words, the $30,000 is a maximum that the at-fault driver will have available in insurance regardless if he injures 3 people or 30. In a situation where multiple people are injured, this minimal amount will need to be divided up amongst all those people no matter how serious the injuries are.
However, if an individual has underinsured motorist coverage, he or she can look to his or her own automobile insurance to recover additional amounts. For example, take a situation where a person has $100,000 in underinsured motorist coverage. If that person was injured in a car accident by someone who had minimum bodily injury liability insurance limits of $15,000, that person could then look to their own insurance company to recover an additional $85,000.
Underinsured motorist coverage is an offsetting coverage. This means that it is not in addition to what the at-fault driver has in coverage. For example, if that same individual, who has $100,000 in underinsured motorist coverage, was injured in a car accident by a driver who had bodily injury liability insurance limits of $50,000—then an additional $50,000 in underinsured motorist coverage could be pursued. Essentially, what is available in underinsured motorist coverage is what is left after subtracting the at fault-driver’s bodily injury liability limits.
The examples above are illustrated below:
$100,000 Underinsured Motorist Coverage – $15,000 At-Fault Driver Bodily Injury Coverage = $85,000 Uninsured Motorist Coverage Available
$100,000 Underinsured Motorist Coverage – $50,000 At-Fault Driver Bodily Injury Coverage = $50,000 Uninsured Motorist Coverage Available
$100,000 Underinsured Motorist Coverage – $100,000 At-Fault Driver Bodily Injury Coverage = $0 Uninsured Motorist Coverage Available
Underinsured Motorist Coverage is valuable. Like uninsured motorist coverage, it protects you, your loved ones and anyone else who rides in your vehicle, from everyone else on the road. Essentially, it allows you to insure you and your loved ones for injuries caused by other drivers when they have inadequate insurance.
All too frequently our car accident attorneys, encounter situations where our clients are injured and the at-fault party has inadequate insurance to pay for the injuries. That is why we recommend that every friend and client of ours become knowledgeable about this insurance option and obtain it. The cost of obtaining it is relatively low for what it provides.
Do I Need to Hire An Attorney to Handle an Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Claim?
No, but you should. Like any automobile insurance claim, a person does not need to have an attorney to advance an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim. A person can try to do it themselves. He or she can try to figure out the process and the laws that apply. However, that person will never know what his or her claim is really worth or how best to present it to make sure the most money is obtained. By the time, one realizes that he or she lacks the experience to obtain full compensation and deal with the insurance adjuster, he or she will likely have made mistakes with the claim. This will likely result in receiving less for the injury claim.
Once you make an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim, your own insurance company will now be at odds with you. The insurance company will have the opposite goal in mind. While you are trying to obtain the most money possible for your injuries, pain and suffering—your insurance company is trying to settle your claim for the lowest amount possible.
The Mishandling of Your Claim Could Result In You Receiving Nothing
There are several traps that someone should be aware of when it comes to advancing an uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist claim. Even attorneys make mistakes when it comes to the laws that apply to advancing these claims. For example, if an individual has an uninsured motorist claim, they must settle it, file a lawsuit against the at-fault party or institute formal arbitration proceedings within two years. Cal. Ins. Code § 11580.2(i)(1). To formally institute arbitration proceedings, the insured must notify the insurer in writing sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.
If someone fails to comply with this rule, he or she is barred from advancing an uninsured motorist claim. Even attorneys get confused with respect to this requirement. Our firm previously handled a legal malpractice claim for a client whose attorney did not recognize this rule and allowed the two years to pass. Through our help, the client still recovered for her injuries. However, it was through the malpractice insurance policy of her former attorney, not her own uninsured motorist coverage. In other words, attempting to advance these claims yourself and making a mistake could have dire consequences.
The Uninsured Motorist Settlement Our Car Accident Attorneys Recently Obtained
Circling back around to the story about our client at the beginning of this page, we were able to formally institute uninsured motorist arbitration proceedings. After that, we were able to negotiate a settlement on her behalf that was well more than she ever expected. Luckily for our client, she did have uninsured motorist coverage which allowed us to do this. Otherwise, she would have received nothing and been left holding the bag.
If you or a loved one was involved in a car accident, contact one of our car accident attorneys today. Whether you have a claim against the at-fault driver, an uninsured motorist claim or an underinsured motorist claim, one of our attorneys will be available to assist. We handle cases throughout all of California and only charge a fee if we recover for you. We will provide an initial consultation and advice at no charge.