A few quick definitions (we will be referring to both as UM coverage)
-Uninsured Motorist – the person who hit you has NO liablity insurance coverage to pay for your injury claim.
-Underinsured Motorist – the person who hit you HAS liability insurance coverage but it is insufficent to pay for your injury claim.
Both result from situations where the amount of liability coverage carried by the at-fault driver is not enough to pay for the full value of your car accident case. UM coverage is coverage that YOU purchase on YOUR own car insurance policy and is governed through a Georgia Statute – O.C.G.A. §33-7-11. Bottom line is you want to make sure you have proper UM coverage. You cannot control who hits you – but you can control the kind of coverage you have in the event you are hurt in a car accident.
This is the best type of UM coverage to purchase as it does exactly what the name implies – it ‘adds-on’ to whatever liability insurance is available. For example, if the at-fault driver has $25,000 in liabily coverage and you have $100,000 in Add-On UM coverage, the total amout of availble coverage to compensate you for your car accident case is $125,000.
This coverage is good to have but it is not nearly as good as Add-On. This coverage also does what the name implies – it gets ‘reduced by’ whatever liability insurance is available. So, in that same example above where the at-fault driver has $25,000 in liabily coveage and you have $100,000 in Reduced By UM coverage, the total amout of available coverage to compensate you for your car accident case is only $100,000. [$100,000 UM reduced by policy minus the $25,000 liablity policy = $75,000 in available UM coverage plus the $25,000 in liability coverage]
The third ‘type’ is having no UM coverage at all. Georgia law requires motorists to carry liability insurance (to protect the general public) but does not require UM coverage. Because of this, an affirmative declination of UM coverage is required to decline UM coverage. We always require insurance companies to produce that written declination if the policy shows no UM coverage.
Take 5 minutes and go pull up your car insurance policy and check to see if you have UM coverage, and if so, what kind and amount. If you do not have this coverage, call your insurance company and add it. Do it. Right now. It is inexpensive and can pay off in a major way. We typically recommend to carry at least $100,000 in Add-On UM coverage but as with most insurance, buy what you can best afford.
- Who is Covered under a UM Policy
If you are in your car and you have your own car insurance policy with you as the Named Insured your UM coverage will apply. That is the easy one. The good news is you are also covered by your UM policy while you are a passenger in another vehicle. The other good news is you are covered by your UM policy if you are struck by a vehicle as a pedestrian. Basically, UM coverage travels around with you like a force field protecting you from being injured by someone with insufficient liability coverage.
You also may be covered under any UM policies that are owned by your resident relatives. Meaning, you may be covered under a UM policy that your mother, father, brother or sister may have – if you were living with them at the time of the car accident.
You also may be covered by any UM policy that provides coverage to the vehicle you were riding in at the time of the accident. We were recently able to take advantage of this for a client who was riding in his father’s corporate vehicle that carried a $1,000,000 UM policy. This policy ended up paying for our client’s leg surgery.
It is so important following a car accident to explore all possible places where UM coverage may be available. We know exactly where to look and finding this coverage can be the difference between obtaining full value for your car wreck case and not.
See why UM coverage is so great?
- How are multiple UM policies handled
The goal is always to maximize UM policies. You are not limited to just using one UM policy if there are multiple ones that apply. There is an abudance of law outlining the priority, or proper order, of stacking multiple UM policies – meaning, which policy will pay out first.
UM coverage follows the person, not the car and here is a high level look at how priority often works where there are multiple policies:
First test: “Receipt of Premium” – if you paid a premium to an insurance company that insurance company is first up.
Second test: “More Closely Indentified With” – which policy are you more closely identified with? For example, you would be more closely identified to a policy held by your family as opposed to your employer or friend.
Third test: “Circumstances of the Injury” – what is your relationship to the policy vs. the circumstances of the injury to the policy? For example, were you operating the vehicle who held the policy in furtherance of your employment as opposed to riding as a passenger in your friends vehicle?
Determining this priority is our job – not yours.
A UM claim is against your insurance company and it arises out of the contract you have with your insurance company. You pay the insurance company premiums every 6 months and in exchange they owe you certain coverages. You also agree to do certain things in order for the coverage to apply:
-you must officially put your insurance carrier on notice of your claim and report the car accident. Different policies have different time periods to provide this notice (14 days, 72 hours, 3 months) but best practices is to always report the car accident right away;
-you must comply with any request of cooperation or give a recorded statement.
If you do not do these things your UM coverage can be voided.
- Effect on Premium after using UM Coverage
We get this response a bunch when we bring up UM coverage in our initial meetings with clients – and it is an understandable one: “I would rather not have to use my own insurance coverage because I do not want my premiums to go up and I do not want to get dropped.”
The simple straightforward answer is NO – your premium will not go up and you will not be dropped for utilizing your UM coverage. Insurance companies are statutorily barred from raising your premiums if you are forced to use UM coverage. The lone exception to this rule is if you file 3 or more UM claims in a 36 month period.
It is not your fault you were in a car accident caused by someone else and it is not your fault the perso who hit you had insufficient insurance coverage. For those two main reasons, the GeorgiaREl Legislature has specifically taken steps to prevent insurance companies from raising premiums or dropping insureds after making a UM claim.
Technically a UM claim becames ripe once the at fault liablity policy has been fully extinguished and paid to you. You can (and in many scenarios should) take this payment first before making the UM demand. But be careful, you have to accept any liability payment in exchange for a Limited Liability Release. If you accept that settlement money in exchange for a General Release you will be barred from making a UM claim.
We will make sure you sign the proper Release documents to be able to then file a UM claim.
We often get calls from clients who were involved in a car accident but the striking at fault driver drove away from the scene never to be found again. Once again UM coverage to the rescue!
These are called “John Doe” cases and are yet another area where UM coverage will apply. The UM carrier assumes the position of the unidentified at fault driver. Your case becomes ‘Your name’ vs. John Doe (your UM carrier steps in the shoes of John Doe).
In order to successfully bring a John Doe claim you must be able to show actual physical contact occurred between the unknown vehicle and your vehicle. The exception to this rule is where your description of how the occurrence occurred is corroborated by an eye witness. You do not need an eye witness where there is direct evidence of the physical contact.
If you are involved in a hit and run accident do not think you are out of luck. Contact us and we will look at your policy and the specifics of accident and let you know if we can still make a case for you.
Here are 10 examples of Car Accident cases we have handled to show how UM coverage can make such a big difference in the recovery.
- $50,000 – Client suffered a back and neck injury that required a hospital stay. She had $22,000 in medical bills. The at fault driver had $25,000 in liability coverage and she had $25,000 in Add-On UM coverage. We were able to get her the limits of both.
- $275,000 – Client suffered a back injury that required surgery. The liability policy limits were only $25,000 but he had $250,000 in Add-on UM coverage and we were able to get the limits of both.
- $50,000 – Client was involved in a hit and run accident. She had $50,000 in UM coverage that covered her settlement.
- $30,000 – Client broke his leg and the at fault driver had only $30,000 in available coverage. Client had no available UM coverage, and his recovery was limited to $30,000.
- $0 – Client who was hit and killed as a pedestrian. The at fault vehicle had no liability insurance and client had no UM coverage.
- $100,000 – Client tore her rotator cuff and underwent surgery. At fault driver had $25,000 in liability coverage but she had $100,000 in UM Reduced by coverage.
- $310,000 – Client suffered a leg injury that required surgery. He received $10,000 from the liability policy because there were multiple people in the car. He then received $50,000 from his personal UM policy and another $250,000 from a UM policy that provided coverage to his friend’s vehicle he was riding in.
- $100,000 – Client broke his arm in a car accident. He received $50,000 in policy limits from the at fault driver and $50,000 from is Add-on UM coverage.
- $75,000 – Client broke her leg in a car accident. She received $25,000 from the at fault driver’s liability policy, $25,000 from her personal UM policy and $25,000 from the vehicle in which she was a passenger at the time of the wreck.
- $25,000 – Client hit and killed by a driver who had minimum liability insurance limits and there was no applicable UM coverage.
Joshua Stein is the Managing Partner of the J. Stein Law Firm. Following graduation from the UGA School of Law, Joshua worked for 2 years as In-House Counsel at Progressive Insurance Company and then 12 years for Goodman McGuffey, a regional insurance defense law firm, where he became an equity partner. In 2017, Joshua ‘switched sides’ and began using the inside knowledge he learned from representing insurance companies to represent those hurt in car accidents.