Drivers: Don’t Leave Home Without UIM
If you get in a motor vehicle accident with another Washington driver, which party takes financial responsibility for the medical bills, property damage, and bodily injuries? If you’re the at-fault driver in a car accident, will you have enough insurance to cover the expenses?
The state of Washington operates under a tort, or at-fault system when it comes to car accidents. That simply means that the driver who is found at fault in an accident is the one who is responsible for paying the damages. An uninsured driver is defined as someone who has no liability insurance at all. An underinsured driver describes someone with insurance coverage, but not enough to cover all of the medical or property damages in an accident. In order to fully protect yourself and your family on the road, every driver should purchase uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) auto insurance coverage.
Of the 4.4 million drivers in Washington state, nearly one-fifth, or approximately 750,000 drivers, are uninsured. Those numbers mean Washington has the 5th highest percentage of uninsured drivers in the U.S., according to the Insurance Information Institute. And while you may assume that most uninsured drivers are centered around urban areas like Seattle, the reality is that rural counties tend to have higher uninsured rates than urban counties, along with a greater number of accidents, and, unfortunately, a higher percentage of motor vehicle fatalities.
Obviously, with 750,000 uninsured drivers in the state of Washington, and many more who have only minimal $25,000 limits, it is critical that you obtain UIM coverage on your auto policy. The Washington State Legislature has recognized the importance of this by requiring auto insurers automatically place underinsured coverage on your auto policy unless you sign a written waiver. In fact, state law requires that insurers place the same amount of underinsured motorist coverage on your policy as you have in liability coverage. So, for example, if you have $100,000 liability coverage, you automatically have $100,000 of UIM coverage on your policy unless you sign a written waiver. We strongly recommend against signing a waiver rejecting underinsured motorist coverage just in order to save a few bucks.
Car insurance requirements vary from state to state. The minimum limit of liability insurance required in Washington State is $25,000. If you are involved in a motor vehicle collision with another driver who has minimum limits, it may very well be critical for you to have uninsured motorist coverage or underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) on your vehicle.
UIM coverage on your automobile insurance policy protects you if you are involved in an auto accident with an uninsured driver or a driver who has insufficient liability coverage under their policy to fully compensate you. UIM coverage protects not only property damage to your vehicle caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist but also covers any bodily injuries you might suffer.
UIM property damage coverage will pay for the damage caused to your vehicle by an uninsured motorist. Washington state insurance laws state the mandatory deductible under UIM coverage is $100. So, for example, if you are hit by an uninsured motorist and it costs $8,000 to repair your vehicle, your UIM coverage will pay $7,900 for the repair of your vehicle.
If you are injured in a car accident with an uninsured driver, your UIM coverage will pay you the same damages that the other driver would legally be required to pay you. This includes money damages for medical expenses, wage loss, pain and suffering, disability, scarring, and loss of ability to enjoy life. If you are injured in a collision with a driver who has only the minimum coverage amount of $25,000, your UIM coverage will pay you any damages you have that are in excess of the other driver’s $25,000 limits. It provides an extra level of protection.
Car accidents are further complicated if the collision is described as a hit-and-run accident. In other cases, a vehicle may not even make contact with yours at all, but causes an accident and then leaves the scene. The fleeing vehicle, or “phantom vehicle,” as it is called, is unidentifiable and therefore cannot be held liable for the accident. Most insurance policies with adequate UIM coverage will provide compensation for those injured in the accident. Some policies, however, have strict limitations on how long you have to make these types of claims. If you’re in doubt, it’s best to talk with an experienced car accident attorney like those at Abeyta Nelson Injury Law.
At Abeyta Nelson Injury Law, we always advise our clients to obtain the same amount of coverage for underinsured motorist coverage as they do for liability. Buy as high a limit as you can afford, at least $100,000 per person/$ 300,000 per accident. If you can afford more, purchase an extension of your insurance policy called personal injury protection, or PIP coverage. PIP is a type of comprehensive insurance coverage that pays for damages including medical expenses and lost wages, no matter who is found to be at fault in the accident.
If you are involved in a collision with an uninsured driver, you should exchange contact information with the other party, if possible, and take photos of both your vehicle and the other party’s vehicle. Make sure that police are called to the scene and a police report is filed. It is also critical that you immediately contact your insurance company and let them know that you’ve been involved in a collision with an uninsured driver. Typically, claims for vehicle damage under an uninsured motorist policy can be handled directly by you with your insurance company. Just make certain that you are charged only the $100 underinsured motorist deductible, and not the larger deductible under your collision coverage.
Your claim for damages for injuries from an uninsured driver is another matter. You should consult an experienced personal injury attorney before attempting to settle an uninsured motorist insurance claim for personal injury with your carrier. Even though you are dealing directly with your insurance company, it is critical that you consult with an experienced law firm before settling any uninsured motorist claim. Your own insurance company is likely to grossly undervalue your claim for personal injuries.
It is critical to consult with a car accident attorney to make certain that you receive adequate compensation. In this situation, your insurance company’s interests are at odds with yours, since their goal is always to pay policyholders as little as possible. At Abeyta Nelson Injury Law, it’s our job to get you what you’re entitled to under Washington insurance law. Call us today for a free consultation.
-written by attorney Rodney K. Nelson, Abeyta Nelson Injury Law