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How does uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage work?

On Behalf of | Mar 25, 2022 | Car Accidents |

When most people think about motor vehicle insurance, they think about liability coverage.  Liability coverage provides insurance benefits to individuals that you injure or whose property was damaged because of your negligent operation of a motor vehicle. Said another way, if you are responsible for a wreck, you may need to reimburse others for the injuries or property damage you caused. Liability insurance is there to address those injuries and damages. Your liability insurance policy protects you by providing insurance benefits to other people affected by the collision, up to the amount of your insurance coverage limit.

In West Virginia, however, every time an insurance company provides you with an automobile  liability insurance policy, the insurer must also provide you with uninsured motorist coverage as part of the policy. Unlike liability insurance (which addresses the claims of others), uninsured motorist coverage can provide you with benefits. For instance, if you are injured by the wrongful conduct of another driver who does not have any liability insurance coverage, your own insurance policy will provide you with coverage, up to uninsured motorist limits, provided by the policy. Uninsured motorist coverage can also come into play if you are injured by an unknown or “hit and run” driver who leaves the scene before being identified.

Similarly, every time an insurance company provides you with automobile liability coverage in West Virginia, the insurer must also offer you an additional coverage called underinsured motorist coverage.  While underinsured coverage can be waived by the named insured, the insurer must at least offer the insured underinsured motorist coverage when the policy is purchased. Underinsured motorist coverage protects you, up to the coverage limits, if you are injured by another driver who has insurance, but not enough to fully cover your claims.

Uninsured and undersinured coverages are available to all persons named on the insurance policy, as well as any family members who live in their household, subject to certain exclusions. Thus, even if you don’t have your own insurance policy, you may be covered by a family member’s policy. That’s why it is so important to speak with an experienced car accident attorney when you are injured in a crash.

Why do so many people invest in these forms of additional insurance coverage?

Many drivers don’t carry insurance

Although the law in West Virginia requires that drivers insure their vehicle, some people still don’t. A mistake or financial hardship might lead to someone missing a payment. Other people intentionally cancel their policies after they register their vehicles.

If you get into a crash caused by a driver who doesn’t have insurance, or doesn’t have enough insurance, there may not be enough coverage to protect you unless you have these additional coverages on your policy. You could wind up paying medical bills and vehicle repair expenses with your own money unless you successfully take the other driver to court, get a judgment against them, and then find a way to collect that judgment through their wages or personal assets, which is a long and sometimes unsuccessful process.

Many other drivers don’t have enough coverage

As frightening as drivers without insurance are, drivers without enough insurance are a much more common issue. Many people buy the cheapest policy they can find. In West Virginia, motorists are only required to maintain $25,000 of individual bodily injury coverage and $25,000 of property damage coverage. So, for instance, if your car is totaled due to the acts of another driver and that driver has the state minimum coverage ($25,000 in property damage coverage), you may be left holding the bag if your vehicle was worth more than $25,000 and you didn’t have underinsured motorist coverage on your policy. Or, what if the negligent driver hit and totaled your car, as well as another vehicle. Is $25,000 enough to pay for two totaled vehicles?

Similarly, with the high costs of medical treatment, $25,000 in individual bodily injury coverage doesn’t go a long way in addressing claims where a person is hospitalized or needs weeks of medical treatment. If you are struck by a driver who has the minimum coverage and your medical bills exceed $25,000, you will wish that you had undersinsured motorist coverage on your policy.

These are just two examples of situations that might leave you with tens of thousands of dollars in bills that go beyond the other driver’s insurance coverage. That’s why underinsured motorist coverage is so important.  Folks buy liability insurance coverage to protect others, but fail to realize that they may very well need additional coverage to protect themselves, in the event that they are injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorists.

Learn more about Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist coverage and filing a claim

If you get into a crash and have provable losses that insurance won’t pay because of the other  driver didn’t have liability coverage or didn’t have enough coverage, your own insurance policy may be available to address your damages. You can file a claim against your own policy for the damages (i.e. medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering) that are not fully compensated by the other driver’s insurance, if they even have insurance.

Many people have purchased these additional coverages but aren’t aware of it or don’t remember buying it. If you have been involved in a crash caused by a person who didn’t have insurance or didn’t have enough insurance, you should talk to an experienced attorney about your options.

To learn more about these matters, please see our overview of Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist coverage in West Virginia.