By Armstrong & Lee LLP
January 2, 2018Texas law requires that car owners purchase insurance to pay for any damages resulting from accidents that they cause. Currently, the minimum amount of liability insurance that noncommercial drivers are required to carry for bodily injury resulting from an accident is $30,000 per injured person, up to a total of $60,000 per accident. If you are involved in anything but a minor accident, the minimum amount of insurance that the at-fault driver carries will likely not be enough to compensate you and your loved ones for your injuries. Unfortunately, a common reality is that some car owners do not purchase insurance or let their insurance lapse, and in that situation, there would be no insurance to compensate you for your injuries. Your own Liability Coverage will only cover damages that you cause, and not damages that you suffer from other at-fault drivers. One of the ways that you can protect yourself and your family is to purchase uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance (“UM/UIM insurance”).
What is UM/UIM Insurance?
In Texas, every insurance company is required to offer you UM/UIM insurance and if you reject the coverage, your rejection must be in writing. UM/UIM insurance will cover losses to you, your family members, passengers in your vehicle and anyone that you give permission to drive your vehicle. UM/UIM insurance will also pay for lost wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses, disfigurement and other damages related to bodily injury and even death, such as funeral expenses if the at-fault party does not have sufficient insurance. The minimum amount of UM/UIM insurance begins at $30,000 in Texas and can be purchased in an amount equal to your liability coverage. In other words, if you are seriously injured in an accident, UM/UIM could significantly increase your recoverable damages oftentimes for a fairly low monthly premium.
How Does UM/UIM Insurance Work?
If you are injured and have UM/UIM insurance, your insurance company will step into the shoes of the at-fault party’s insurance company and will pay you for damages greater than the amount of the at-fault driver’s coverage amount up to the amount of your UM/UIM policy. Below are four scenarios where UM/UIM insurance could cover losses sustained in an automobile or pedestrian accident:
- When the other driver has no insurance. In November 2017, it was estimated that 14.1% of drivers in Texas do not have insurance. If you are involved in a collision with a driver that has no insurance, you will almost certainly not be compensated for bodily injury unless you have UM/UIM coverage. If you purchase $30,000 UIM/UM insurance, then an attorney can make a claim against your own insurance company (who has stepped into the shoes of the uninsured driver) to recover the policy amount for your injuries.
- When the other driver doesn’t have enough insurance. If you get into an accident with a driver that has a minimum policy and sustain $60,000 in medical bills and/or pain and suffering, then the at-fault party’s insurance company would only be responsible for paying you $30,000. Your UM/UIM coverage would then pay the remaining $30,000 to compensate you for the total amount of your damages. Oftentimes, however, it takes an attorney’s involvement for your insurance company to offer a fair amount under UM/UIM coverage, and sometimes your insurance company will never offer a fair amount, making trial necessary.
- When you’re traveling in another’s car and get in an accident. Because your UM/UIM insurance functions as your insurance company stepping into the shoes of an at-fault driver, it could also compensate you if you are traveling in a car and are injured by an at-fault driver with no insurance or insufficient insurance to fully compensate you for your injuries.
- When you’re hit by a car as a pedestrian or bicyclist. Our firm has seen many accidents where our clients were severely injured or even killed due to distracted driving (such as talking or texting on a cell phone or eating and drinking). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently found that distracted driving caused 3,477 deaths and 391,000 injuries in 2015. When a pedestrian is struck by a car, it is likely that the insurance of the driver will not compensate him or her for all of the medical bills and pain and suffering caused by the accident. If you have UM/UIM coverage, your insurance company can step into the shoes of the at-fault party and may pay the difference between your damages and the policy limit of the at-fault driver up to the amount of your UM/UIM coverage.
Obtaining a UM/UIM Recovery
Although UM/UIM coverage can be valuable, it is important to hire an experienced personal injury attorney for a few reasons.
First, UM/UIM coverage only kicks in after the policy limits of the at-fault driver are exhausted. You will likely need an attorney to get the full policy amount from an insurance company.
Second, even where your own insurance company steps into the shoes of the uninsured driver, you will still have to prove the liability of the uninsured or underinsured at-fault driver and prove your damages. If your UM/UIM insurance provider refuses to pay the full and fair amount of your damages or contests liability, a lawsuit may need to be filed against your insurance provider, and the case may even go to trial.
Because your insurance company steps into the shoes of the at-fault driver, it is important to have an attorney that will deal with your insurance company and avoid common mistakes made during this process. For example, most people assume that it is OK to give their insurance company recorded statements; however, when your insurance company is determining how much they will pay you under your UM/UIM insurance policy, they may use admissions made in your recorded statements against you to potentially lower the amount they would have to pay you.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident or pedestrian accident and needs to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney, contact the lawyers at Armstrong & Lee LLP at (832) 709-1124 to discuss your case.