Uninsured / underinsured (UM) motorist coverage policy explained

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In this article we discuss the importance of having uninsured motorist policy coverage. In our experience insurance sales agents rarely talk about the importance of this coverage. Further, in our firm, we see every day the importance of having this UM coverage. 

What is an uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage?

Uninsured/underinsured (shortened as "UM" or "UIM") coverage is an auto insurance policy provision that can be added on to your existing policy. In case you are in a traffic collision and the person at-fault has no insurance, your own insurance company will help pay for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering injuries under your UM policy. 

It is essentially buying insurance against persons who may be driving without insurance.

Is UM and UIM coverage the same thing? Do I need both?

Uninsured (UM) coverage applies if the negligent driver who injures you or your passengers do not have any liability insurance coverage at all. In such situations, UM coverage will help pay for you and your passenger's losses. Underinsured (UIM) coverage applies if the negligent driver's policy is insufficient to pay for all of you and your passenger's losses.

In almost every situation both UM and UIM coverage is coupled and offered together by insurance companies. Inquire with your agent to be sure.

Over 15% of California drivers are uninsured

Why do I need UM/UIM coverage? Isn't every driver required to have insurance?

1) Over 15% of California drivers are uninsured

Despite California requiring motorists to have liability insurance, 15.2% of drivers in California were uninsured as of 2015. This was higher than the national average of 13%. Some may be financially unable to insure themselves, whereas others let their policy lapse when they carelessly miss a payment. Whatever the case, if you are hurt by one of these uninsured drivers, you will want some coverage to help you in your time of need.

If you have a lot of medical bills and no UM coverage, you will most likely have to personally pay for those bills. With medical bills consistently being one of the top reasons for personal bankruptcy filing in America year after year, this is not a potential problem to be taken lightly. 


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2) Insurance for if you are the victim of a hit-and-run or if hit by a drunk driver

Most UM policies will cover you and your passengers if you are the victim of a hit-and-run, and that driver is not locatable. If a drunk driver hits you, that person's insurance policy may not cover them because criminal acts (such as driving under the influence) can potentially lead to non-coverage.

In both of these situations UM policies will help protect you and your passengers.

3) Minimal liability coverage in California is set very low at $15,000.00

Even if the person who causes the traffic collision has auto insurance, California's minimum liability coverage is set at $15,000.00 per person per accident. This means that if you have more than $15,000.00 in medical bills, lost wages, and other losses, you will be left to suffer those losses personally or having to sue that at-fault person. Any traffic collision that is not minor in nature will require funds above $15,000.00.

In such situations, an underinsured motorist policy will help cover losses above $15,000.00, considering that the UM policy limits is high enough.

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How do I get UM coverage?

Talk to your insurance agent or broker about adding this coverage to your policy. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1) California law requires insurers to offer UM coverage

The law only requires that insurance companies offer minimum limits of $15,000 per person and $30,000.00 per occurrence, but most insurers will offer limits starting at $30,000.00 per person and $60,000.00 per occurrence. Ask your agent or broker about this, as many do not stress the importance of this coverage.

2) Do not sign the waiver

To remove UM coverage from your policy the insurer is required to obtain a written waiver by law. Do not sign this waiver and consider obtaining UM coverage; it is very cheap in comparison to rates for liability insurance.

3) Get as much as you can

With so many uninsured drivers these days it is vital to protect yourself and your family with the highest UM/UIM coverage you can get. Many insurers will place conditions to purchasing greater limits, such as purchasing the same liability limits. Ask your agent or broker about the limits available for purchase.

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author: Robert L. Montanez, Esq.

Robert is a licensed attorney whose sole focus is representing personal injury clients throughout California. Contact him for a free consultation today.