Everything You Need To Know About Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Terrible accident of two cars on highway

Welcome back to the Gerstner Law blog!  In this post, I’m going to discuss uninsured motorist coverage.

In the last post, we discussed liability coverage.  As a recap, liability insurance covers personal injury to others when the insured causes an auto accident.  But what happens if the crasher doesn’t have liability coverage? Or what happens if the crasher speeds away before he is caught and the police never find him?  In those situations, the victim’s uninsured motorist coverage would kick in.

Uninsured motorist coverage, or UM coverage for short, applies when you are injured due to an “uninsured motorist.”  There are at least two ways a driver qualifies as an “uninsured motorist.” First, and most obvious, is when the driver does not carry liability coverage.  Montana law requires that people carry at least $25,000 per person/$50,000 per occurrence in liability coverage. Unfortunately, not everybody follows the law.  According to the Insurance Information Institute, 9.9% of drivers in Montana don’t carry insurance.  In other words, if you’re in a car crash, there’s a 1/10 chance that the other guy doesn’t have any liability coverage.

A second way a driver qualifies as an “uninsured motorist” is if the driver who causes an auto accident is never found.  In other words, if it’s a hit and run situation. It’s disgraceful, but unfortunately some people’s impulse is to run away after hitting another car or person, especially if the crasher is under the influence.

In both those situations, the injured party hopefully has UM coverage to help insure against damages caused by the bad driver.  If there is no applicable UM coverage, the injured party is simply up a creek if she suffers significant injuries. UM coverage is not mandatory like liability coverage, but Montana law requires insurance companies to specifically offer UM coverage to everybody who purchases car insurance.

UM coverage doesn’t just cover you while you’re driving your car.  It also covers other people who are riding in your car, even if they are not related to you and regardless if they carry their own insurance.  UM coverage is also what we call “personal and portable.” That means that your UM insurance will cover you if you’re struck by an uninsured motorist no matter where you are, even if you are a pedestrian or in somebody else’s car.  My old law professor used to say it’s coverage that you carry with you in your back pocket.

To illustrate how uninsured motorist coverage works, I’ll describe two scenarios.  First, imagine Jogger Jack, who has UM coverage on his car, is out for a run along Rimrock Road.  Meanwhile, Social Sally is driving along Rimrock. Sally takes her eyes off the road to send a selfie on Snapchat with her phone.  Because Sally is so absorbed in taking the perfect selfie using the dog face Snapchat filter, she doesn’t notice that she drifts to the shoulder of the road and clips Jogger Jack.  Sally is so oblivious that she doesn’t notice the crash or see Jack fly over her the hood over car. While Jack is writhing in pain on the side of the road, Sally drives off and is never identified as the person who hit Jogger Jack.  Fortunately, because Jack has UM coverage, his insurance company will pay for his resulting medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, up to his policy limits.

To show how UM coverage can cover multiple people, imagine Luckless Larry is driving his car and Hapless Harry is a passenger.  Larry has UM coverage on the car he is driving, and Harry owns his own car and has UM coverage. Larry and Harry are cruising down 27th Street when Deadbeat Dan blows the stoplight on Montana Avenue and crashes right into their car.  People in Gerstner Law look out their office windows in horror as they see Larry and Harry cut out of the car and rushed to the hospital with significant injuries.  Deadbeat Dan is arrested for driving without insurance. In this case, Larry’s uninsured motorist coverage would cover damages suffered by Larry up to his policy limits.  Harry has two potential sources of recovery. He can recover under Larry’s UM coverage, since he was injured while occupying Larry’s car. Harry can also recover from his own UM coverage, since it is personal and portable and follows him nearly everywhere.  Harry’s damages are covered up to the combined limits of his and Larry’s UM coverages.

All this can be very complicated, and I haven’t begun to explain other nuances that come with UM coverage and how it interacts with other insurance coverages.  If you’ve been injured in a car crash, you need an experienced personal injury attorney to sort through the insurance coverages and maximize your recovery. Give Gerstner Law a ring and let us deal with the insurance companies so that you can focus on your recovery.

You may also be wondering what would happen if you’re hit by a driver that has liability insurance, but not high enough limits to cover your damages.  Stay tuned for the next thrilling installment of the Gerstner Law blog, where I’ll be discussing underinsured motorist coverage.