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What is Uninsured Motorist Coverage and Do I Need It?

Financial concept about Uninsured Motorist Coverage UM Definition with inscription on the piece of paper.

California law requires drivers to carry certain minimum levels of vehicle insurance before getting on the road. The requirements apply to auto drivers and motorcycle riders alike. What happens if you get into an accident with someone who does not have the requisite insurance coverage? What are your options? Read on for a discussion of uninsured motorist coverage in California, and call a dedicated San Francisco motorcycle accident attorney if you’ve been hurt in a car or motorcycle accident in the Bay Area.

California Minimum Insurance Requirements

California law requires all drivers to purchase insurance coverage in case of an accident. The baseline requirement under California law is “15/30/5” liability insurance. 15/30/5 coverage means that, in the event of an accident, the insurance company should pay up to:

  • $15,000 in personal injury damages to an injured person
  • $30,000 in personal injury damages per accident (for multiple injured parties)
  • $5,000 in property damage

California drivers can purchase more than the minimum amount of coverage, and we strongly encourage drivers to do so. Accidents can be extremely expensive, especially if someone suffers a serious injury. Medical treatment can easily generate tens of thousands of dollars in medical costs and, without sufficient insurance, an at-fault driver can quickly run out of out-of-pocket funds.

Additional Coverage Protects You Against Uninsured Drivers

Unfortunately, not all drivers follow the law requiring insurance. Many people drive without any liability insurance because they are unwilling or unable to cover the premiums or for some other reason, such as if they are driving without a license or legal immigration status. Even if they do carry some liability insurance, they might only purchase the minimum required, which can be far from sufficient to cover the medical bills suffered by an accident victim. To protect accident victims in such a circumstance, insurance providers offer supplementary coverage meant to kick in when a driver is injured by a party without sufficient insurance.

Uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) coverage protects people who are hurt by drivers without sufficient insurance. When you are hit by a person without insurance, you can file a claim with your insurance provider under your UM/UIM coverage. If the at-fault driver has no insurance, your UM policy will cover you up to the policy limits. If the at-fault driver has some liability insurance but not enough, your UIM coverage will kick in to provide further damages. The UIM carrier gets a credit for the money you did receive, however. For example, if you settled with a defendant driver for his/her policy limits of $25,000 and you have a $100,000 UIM policy you could get an additional $75,000 ($100,000 UIM – $25,000) underlying settlement if your damages warrant it.

While an accident victim can pursue a personal injury lawsuit against an at-fault driver even if they lack insurance, chances are the driver does not have sufficient assets to cover the damage. It is more likely that they lack coverage because they cannot afford the premiums, which means they certainly cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for medical bills, wage loss, and pain and suffering after an accident.

I currently tell people to get the highest policy limits they can afford. I have handled cases where a person suffered a below-the-knee amputation as a result of a crash and the responsible person only had $15,000 and no assets. The injured party had only $15,000 of UIM (therefore he could not get more than $15,000. You cannot stack policies in California.) and in other cases, he had no UIM. Result? The injured party only ends up with a paltry, minimum settlement. In other cases involving fractures and surgeries, my client had $500,000 of UIM and the defendant only had $15,000. We were able to get another $485,000 out of my client’s UIM policy. ($500,000-$15,000). If you can afford a bike worth $25,000 and have assets, you are unwise to get anything less than the maximum you can afford. It is worth it to protect yourself and your family.

Do I Need UM/UIM if I Have Health Insurance?

Private and government-provided health insurance policies will cover an accident victim’s medical costs, regardless of fault. There are, however, limitations to health insurance coverage. Health insurance often comes with high deductibles and copays, and health insurance plans might not cover certain services such as chiropractic care or acupuncture. Car insurance will cover these sorts of services if you purchase med pay with your vehicle insurance. Except for CSAA, vehicle insurance med pay coverage comes with a third-party liability provision that requires reimbursement to your insurer if you get money in an accident claim. They can be negotiated down by a third usually. If you had to go to the hospital after a crash and get surgery and stay in the hospital for a few days you could end up with co-pays up to $8,000 plus an ambulance bill of $2,500-3,500. It really takes the stress off to get them covered by your med pay rather than sitting at home getting hassled for payment by the hospitals, doctors or ambulance company. Get at least $10,000 in UIM and $25,000 if you can afford it. Some of my clients had a $100,000 UIM policy that even paid for a surgery that Kaiser stalled on. It is worth it.

Do you need UIM coverage? Yes, you do. Don’t go without it.

If you have been injured by a negligent driver in San Francisco, contact William E. Weiss for a free consultation at 415-362-6765 ext. 157 or preferably my cell at 415-235-7060. You can email me at william.weiss@gmail.com.

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