West Virginia increases minimum liability insurance requirements in 2016

West Virginia is taking steps to increase the likelihood that insurance will cover the costs associated with a car crash by raising liability insurance minimums in 2016.

When a motor vehicle collision occurs, minimum liability insurance requirements are supposed to protect both the driver and the victims by providing funds to cover associated costs like medical expenses and damage to vehicles. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), liability insurance is required in 49 states and the District of Columbia. The only state in the country that does not have a compulsory insurance liability law is New Hampshire. Instead, New Hampshire requires that drivers be able to prove they have the means to cover the costs of an accident if needed.

West Virginia law requires all vehicle owners to have liability insurance. Unfortunately, the required insurance levels are not always sufficient to cover the costs associated with a crash. In an attempt to better ensure these costs are covered, the Legislature recently voted to increase the minimum liability limits for auto insurance in 2016.

More on liability insurance law in West Virginia

The current mandatory minimum insurance requirements are as follows:

  • Property damage liability. Drivers in the state are required to carry insurance that covers $10,000 in property damage. Although this is generally used to cover repair costs to a vehicle, it can extend to include other forms of property. If, for instance, a driver backs into a garage door the property damage liability portion of the policy may cover the cost of repairs to the garage.
  • Bodily injury liability. This coverage is generally broken down into two portions: injury costs per person and total injury costs per accident, regardless of the number of injured persons. In West Virginia, drivers are currently required to carry liability insurance of at least $20,000 in bodily injury coverage per person and $40,000 in bodily injury coverage per accident, regardless of the number of injured persons. This coverage is intended for medical expenses, lost wages, or the damages paid to the loved ones of a deceased person if someone is killed in an accident.
  • Uninsured Motorist Coverage: Drivers in West Virginia are also required to carry insurance to cover accidents with an uninsured driver, referred to as uninsured motorist coverage. T he required amounts are the same as the minimum requirements for liability coverage, listed above.
  • Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Drivers in West Virginia are not required to carry underins ured motorist coverage, which provides coverage in the event that the responsible party does not have sufficient liability coverage to fully compensate all injured parties. However, drivers may opt to purchase underinsured motorist coverage on their own policy, which is a good idea given that many drivers who cause accidents are not sufficiently insured.

Upcoming changes effective January 1, 2016

The minimum liability limits for auto insurance are increasing effective January 1, 2016. The minimum bodily injury liability limits, per person, increases to $25,000, the minimum bodily injury liability limits per accident increases to $50,000 and the property damage minimum increases to $25,000. Any insurance policy issued or renewed after December 31, 2015 must reflect these changes.

These changes will also require insurance companies to increase uninsured motorist coverage, as the minimum uninsured motorist coverage offered must equal the minimum financial responsibility limits for liability coverage. Thus, every policy that is issued or renewed after December 31, 2015 must contain both liability and uninsured motorist coverage of at least $25,000 in bodily injury coverage per person, $50,000 of bodily injury coverage per accident (regardless of the number of injured parties) and $25,000 of property damage coverage.

While these increases are a positive change, even $25,000 in liability coverage is still insufficient in many cases. Thus, it is extremely important that drivers protect themselves by having sufficient underinsured motorist coverage on their own policy.

While the West Virginia Legislature did vote to increase the liability limits, the Legislature also provided added protections to the insurance companies. Previously, if the driver responsible for an accident was named as an excluded driver on the owner's insurance policy, the insurance company was required to provide the injured victim with at least the minimum coverage required by law. In other words, if the defendant driver was an excluded driver on a policy that had liability coverage of $100,000 for bodily injury, the insurance company could reduce the liability limit down to, but not below, the minimum coverage required by law. However, the Legislature recently added W.Va. Code, §33-6-31h, which specifically states that the insurance company is no longer "required to provide any coverage" for a victim who was injured by a driver that was excluded on owner's insurance policy. This will undoubtedly lead to more victims having to rely on their uninsured motorist coverage. Thus, it is extremely important that drivers protect themselves by reviewing their own uninsured motorist coverage limits to determine if the coverage is sufficient.