As you hit the Georgia roads in search of good music and art, I recommend pre-trip insurance planning considering a particular risk: Uninsured Joe, a person with little to no auto auto mobile insurance for the wrecks he/she causes. I spend most of my days helping folks by fighting with insurance companies. But in 18 years practicing law, I’ve learned that many drivers in Georgia have little to no auto insurance and that presents a problem for you and your family.
You probably know that your automobile liability insurance coverage gives you some protection for when you are at fault for a wreck. But what about when you get hit by Uninsured Joe and it’s his fault Since Joe does not have enough insurance (and likely few assets), you either absorb your own loss from your own wallet or seek compensation from your own insurance company through your Uninsured Motorist Coverage.
Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist coverage (let’s call it UM) protects you from wrecks caused by Uninsured Joe, whether he’s totally uninsured (driving illegally without insurance) or underinsured (not enough to cover the harm he causes). You literally are buying UM insurance to protect you in case you get hit by someone who did not buy any, or enough, insurance. Let’s address two general questions: a) how much UM should you buy? and b) what type should you buy? In a nutshell, the answers are: a) as much as they will sell you, and b) the good kind.
As much as they will sell you. Insurance companies must sell you UM limits equal to your auto liability limits (assuming you do not reject it or ask for less). So ask for as much UM as your liability limits. That is choosing to protect you and your family when hurt by a stranger in the same amount you have chosen to protect the stranger when hurt by you. It’s pretty cheap insurance, too, so don’t fear the premium. Buy as much as they will sell you, and, if you also have an umbrella policy, ask if they might sell you up to that limit, too. They don’t have to do that, but they might. In short, by doing this you are trying to Do Unto those you love, as much as You Do for perfect strangers (to put a spin on the golden rule). To me, that’s a no brainer.
Make sure it’s the good kind. All UM insurance is not created equal. There are two types, ?bad? and “good.? OffsetUM is the bad kind because it does not add on to the at-fault driver’s liability insurance. If he has $50,000 of liability insurance, your UM gets offset by that amount, which means you’d end up with only his $50,000 in liability coverage. Add-On UM is the good kind because it gets added to the at-fault driver’s liability limits, and, in our example, you’d end up with $100,000 of total coverage.
A few other points to consider about UM. Your UM policies can also stack on top of your and other applicable UM policies. UM policies are like pancakes: they stack on themselves and other UM policies. So if you have several cars in your family and different policies on each car, you might get to stack them. That’s good! Better still, your UM follows you even if your cars are not in the wreck, for example, when you are a passenger in a friend’s car, a pedestrian hit in a crosswalk, or a cyclist hit in a bike lane. Many clients have been shocked to learn that UM from their car insurance protects them as a pedestrian or cyclist.
My clients and their families often come to my office after a wreck has upended their lives. Many times the at-fault-driver has insufficient liability insurance or assets to make the situation right. Hopefully, you won’t be in a wreck or need my services. Nonetheless, I recommend that before you take the road trip, protect yourself and your family from the mistakes of Uninsured Joe just as much as you protect him and the public from your own mistakes. Get the most UM you can, and make it the good kind.
*The amount you should choose for your liability limits is a question beyond the scope of this article. Please consult your insurance professional to make an informed choice on liability amounts, including umbrella and excess liability insurance limits.
Blaine A. Norris is a trial lawyer with over 18 years of practice in Georgia. He now focuses on personal injury and automobile wrecks at Blaine A. Norris, PC. He graduated in 1994 from UGA with a History degree (magna cum laude) and in 1997 from UGA School of Law with a law degree (magna cum laude).