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CALIFORNIA UNINSURED MOTORIST ACCIDENT CASES
It should come as no surprise, but approximately one out of every three drivers on California Roads today is either uninsured or inadequately insured. This is a staggering statistic but it should make you think about the importance of obtaining good uninsured motorist coverage on your end so you can take responsibility for the reality that many drivers have no auto insurance or not enough auto insurance. Most of the time, these "uninsured motorists," typically drive the most unreliable (mechanically unreliable), and unsafe cars, and, also they are the least careful drivers! Most folks who decide not take responsibility financially with uninsured motorist insurance coverage, fail to take responsibility of other items like their automobiles. Thus, in California, almost one out of every two auto accidents is caused by an uninsured or inadequately insured driver.
The big question is what can you do to protect yourself financially from them? Keep reading to find out what you can do to protect you and your family!
WHAT IS CALIFORNIA "UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE?"
Uninsured (including under-insured; also known as UIM) motorist (UM) coverage is a part of almost every automobile policy sold in the great state of California. Your uninsured motorist auto coverage is designed and drafted to compensate you financially for a loss (damages) which you sustain in a car accident, and which is caused directly by a driver who is uninsured, or inadequately insured. When such an accident or loss occurs your own insurance company "steps into the shoes" of the party who was without insurance to compensate you for your loss (damages). Thus, your auto insurance company is required by California law to include uninsured motorist coverage as part of every automobile policy written, unless you specifically decline it, in writing. This is key - any declination of UM or UIM coverage in California must be signed by you (in writing). Coverage amounts (policy limits) are usually designated on the face page (also known as "Dec Page") of your automobile insurance policy by the letter or letters "U" or "UM" (sometimes "UIM").
OKAY....WHO IS INSURED BY MY UNINSURED MOTORIST POLICY?
IMPORTANT POINT: You do not have to be an automobile driver or passenger in order to be eligible for benefits. Your automobile UM policy applies even if you were a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist, or bystander, so long as the motorist who caused your injuries was uninsured or under-insured.
Your uninsured motorist insurance auto coverage also applies for the benefit of other passengers in your car or other people driving your car with your permission, and who are injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver. Thus, it is considered an expansive policy covering everyone inside the vehicle compartment. Remember, as long as you give permission to any other person to drive your car the coverage will apply - if the car was taken without your permission, the coverage may not apply!
AT WHAT TIME DOES A CALIFORNIA UNINSURED MOTORIST POLICY APPLY?
California uninsured motorist vehicle insurance coverage applies whenever anyone who is insured is injured by a driver who is uninsured (UM) or underinsured (UIM) which effectively means "does not have enough insurance to pay for the damages they caused." An uninsured driver in California includes a hit-and-run driver, so long as there is some actual contact from the hit-and-run driver's vehicle. Remember, this point is crucial - there must be proof of "vehicle-on-vehicle" contact in order to trigger the UM or UIM benefits.
ALL RIGHT, WHAT EXACTLY IS UNDER-INSURED MOTORIST (UIM) COVERAGE & WHEN WOULD THAT APPLY?
Underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) only applies if the other driver's liability limits are lower than your uninsured coverage (UM) limits. Therefore this means, if the at-fault driver who causes the accident has a liability policy of say $50,000.00 per person, you are not entitled to any uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits if your uninsured motorist coverage is for $50,000.00 per person/$100,000.00 aggregate. "Aggregate" is just a fancy way of saying "per occurrence."
If, on the other hand, you have uninsured motorist coverage of $100,000.00 per person/$300,000.00 aggregate, you could receive up to the $50,000.00 difference from your own company for an injury to one person, and up to $100,000.00 additional insurance from your own company if there were injuries to two or more of your family members, or passengers that were inside your car at the time of the underinsured motorist accident.
WHAT LOSSES (DAMAGES) ARE COVERED?
Uninsured motorist coverage is designed to compensate you for both your financial and your non-financial losses which you sustain from an accident, and for which you have a legal claim as a result of the negligence of an uninsured, underinsured, or hit-and-run driver in California. Your "financial losses" would include any medical expenses which you reasonably and necessarily required as a result of such an accident, any loss of income or earnings, any diminution in your ability to earn money in the future, or any various out-of-pocket expenses such as household, and related help and like assistance.
Non-financial damages include such things like loss of ability to enjoy or engage in certain activities as a result of injuries, treatment schedules, pain and suffering, permanent impairment under the AMA guidelines, and other such objective (and subjective) losses for which you are entitled to monetary compensation under California law. There is usually no exact way of pinpointing an appropriate amount of compensation for this factor or "value driver," but insurance claims adjusters and attorneys are often able to come to an accommodation based upon the severity of the injury, whether it fully heals, what kinds of treatment are necessary and how much time is required in order to achieve an optimum recovery. However, this is also why more objective findings are needed like the AMA impairment - this also means more lawyers need to step up and argue the guidelines during negotiations for settlement and California jury trial.
HOW MUCH UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE MUST MY CALIFORNIA AUTO INSURANCE COMPANY OFFER ME?
Your insurance company in California is only required to issue an uninsured motorist policy in a minimum amount of $30,000.00 per person/ $60,000.00 aggregate, regardless of the fact that you might be purchasing a much higher liability policy (the portion of your auto policy which pays others for injuries to others when you are at fault). Furthermore, if your liability policy is less than $30,000.00/$60,000.00, your insurance company will only issue UM coverage in a matching amount. Thus, if you have a $15,000.00/$30,000.00 liability policy, your insurance company will offer uninsured motorist coverage for only $15,000.00/$30,000.00. Not many people in California are aware of this. However, many, if not most auto insurance companies will allow you to purchase uninsured motorist benefits in an amount equal to your liability policy. Thus, if you have a $100,000.00/$300,000.00 liability policy for example, you usually will be able to purchase uninsured motorist benefits in that amount as well. I ALWAYS recommend you purchase an equal amount of liability and uninsured motorist coverage benefits whenever possible!
CAUTION TO THE CONSUMER: Many automobile insurance companies will automatically issue a $30,000.00/$60,000.00 policy of uninsured motorist benefits when issuing a policy with higher liability limits. If this happens to you, contact your broker immediately and find out how much more it would cost to have your uninsured motorist benefits raised to match your liability policy limit. Everyone reading this website page should immediately review their auto policy to make sure they know their California uninsured motorist limits.
OKAY, THANKS FOR THE DETAILS ABOVE...SO JUST HOW MUCH CALIFORNIA UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE DO I NEED?
As many of you are aware, this is a personal financial question, and there is no one correct answer because everyone has a different financial situation. However, to some extent, the amount of UM coverage that you need in California will be tied in to the amount of liability insurance that you can afford. Also, depending if you are a high-income earner, and a prolonged physical injury from an uninsured motorist accident would substantially impair your earning capacity, you should have substantial UM protection on your policy and perhaps an umbrella coverage for more coverage - sometimes covered under your home insurance policy. Check your insurance carrier for more details!
To this end, no prudent or responsible person should have less than $100,000.00 per person/$300,000.00 aggregate of uninsured motorist protection. Of course, this will mean that your liability policy needs to be written in that amount too. If you can afford more, like $250,000.00 or more, then I recommend that amount as well. The reason? Well, the cost of purchasing this coverage may be a stretch financially for some people, but it is usually not as much as you might think - sometimes for just $20.00 more per month you can have a substantial jump in auto UM coverage. In my opinion, it is just too risky to drive around in California without a good amount of UM coverage plain and simple.