UNINSURED MOTORIST (UM) AND UNDERINSURED MOTORIST (UIM) COVERAGES FOR PERSONAL INJURY
After a car wreck involving injuries, the first concern is getting the treatment needed. At some point after emergency treatment, it’s important to start looking toward recouping damages, including that medical treatment, caused by another. South Carolina law requires motorists carry at least $25,000.00 of insurance coverage for the event they cause injuries to another with their vehicle. That gives some financial protection to those who are injured by the liability of an at-fault driver, but doesn’t cover two situations: 1. Some motorists violate the law and do not have insurance and/or drive vehicles not insured. 2. Sometimes the level of damages goes well beyond the $25,000.00 in minimum coverage the at-fault driver carries. The first situation can be covered by uninsured motorist (UM) coverage and the second by underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. Let me explain the nuances of both.
First, it’s important to know the importance of ensuring your policy has UM and UIM coverage. This is something that should be offered when purchasing insurance coverage (in fact, if the purchaser is not made aware and offered this coverage, that failure to offer can become legal grounds against the insurance carrier as I will explain in a later article). You must have this coverage as part of your own vehicle insurance policy in order to seek this coverage in the event of being injured by an UM or UIM at-fault driver. This will likely mean an extra cost, and is not required by law so is discretionary. Take it.
When injured by an at-fault uninsured motorist, you or your lawyer will make the claim for UM coverage. The UM coverage will be at the limits you chose for liability coverage (coverage for damages you may cause against another). Important to note that South Carolina (and many other states) allow for “stacking” of UM coverage by the number of vehicles insured under your policy. As an example of how this works: if your liability coverage limits are the SC minimum of $25,000.00 then your UM coverage would be the same. If you have two vehicles covered under the policy, the amount of coverage with stacking is $50,000.00!
UIM coverage is very similar to UM coverage (including stacking), but for the circumstance of damages exceeding the at-fault driver’s limits. For example, if your hospital bills are $30,000.00, but the at-fault driver only has minimum limits of $25,000.00, then you would be able to make a UIM claim against your insurance carrier for damages remaining when the at-fault driver’s limits have been tendered. In this example, the overage of damages are at least $5,000.00 more, but with claim of pain and suffering and other damages beyond hospital bills the UIM coverage tendered should be much higher (though based on available coverage by the UIM limits with stacking).
Important note: Your insurance company can defend themselves “against” a UM (or UIM) claim for both liability and damages, and can even retain counsel to “defend” from the standpoint of the alleged at-fault driver. For a case in which liability is questionable, and/or you are requesting an amount in excess of what they believe your damages, they may assign an attorney to defend against the UM or UIM claim. Interestingly, when these types of disputed liability cases go to court the defendant will likely have two sets of attorneys on his “side”. The Defendants own insurance carrier assigned attorney defending him to prevent him paying his policy, and the Plaintiff’s insurance company’s lawyers defending against the UM or UIM claim.
It’s important to understand UM and UIM coverage even if you have retained a lawyer to ensure all potential coverage is being pursued.