WHEELING – Few things in the practice of law are as frustrating as having a client who needs help, deserves help, and yet can’t get that help.
To make matters even worse, more often than not the dilemma is created by the client herself. Allow me to explain.
A person who is injured in an automobile accident that was caused by someone else always has the option to pursue a claim against the party who caused the accident. In those circumstances, the insurance carrier for the “at fault” party is responsible to compensate the injured party.
That responsibility is not without limit, however.
Insurance policies always have a limit to the amount of money they can be required to pay. Most states have statutory requirements for minimum coverages.
For example, in West Virginia, residents are required to maintain auto liability insurance with limits of at least $25,000. That means if you are involved in an accident with a person who carries the minimum insurance limits in West Virginia, the most you can ever recover from that person’s insurance carrier is $25,000.
Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon to see a case where the injured party’s medical bills alone amount to three or four times that sum, or more.
So, what happens in those cases?
The answer depends upon the amount and type of insurance that is carried by the injured party. When you go to purchase auto insurance, you are given the option to buy what is called “uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.”
Uninsured protects you in the event you are in an accident caused by someone who, for whatever reason, is not covered by auto liability insurance. Even though drivers are required to have insurance, there are still circumstances where someone isn’t covered. Maybe he forgot to pay his monthly premium. Maybe he got laid off and simply didn’t have the money to pay the premium. There are dozens of other possibilities. In cases where the other driver has no coverage, uninsured motorist coverage steps in to protect you.
In my experience, underinsured motorist coverage, or UIM, comes into play far more frequently.
UIM protects you in the situation where the person who caused the accident does have liability insurance, but the amount of his insurance is not enough to fully compensate you for the injuries and damages you sustained as a result of the accident.
Take, for example, a case where another driver runs a red light and “T-bones” your car.
The impact causes you to sustain multiple injuries including a herniated disc in your neck. You go through the usual conservative treatment, after which your doctor recommends surgery. Your medical bills are $50,000, and you missed two months of work after surgery, resulting in lost wages of $10,000. The at-fault driver carried the state minimum coverage of $25,000.
If you carried UIM coverage, your insurance carrier will step in and make up the difference between what the at-fault driver’s company paid, and what your claim is ultimately worth. In the example cited, that case would normally settle for several hundred thousand dollars or more.
If you didn’t carry UIM coverage, or if you didn’t carry enough UIM coverage, you have sustained one heck of a loss that will never be compensated.
UIM coverage is not particularly expensive, and is insurance that you can purchase to protect yourself. Don’t be that person who suffers a serious injury, and then makes the problem worse by not having enough insurance to protect herself. Talk with your auto insurance agent, and make sure you purchase as much UIM coverage as you can afford.
Artimez is an attorney with Bordas & Bordas in Wheeling.