Auto Insurance 101: Why “Full Coverage” may leave you empty.
As a personal injury lawyer in Greenville, South Carolina, I often hear clients tell me that they have “full coverage” on their car so they should fully protected. What they don’t realize is that their auto insurance policy often only protects them from liability to third parties. While liability is important and required under SC law, my experience as an auto accident attorney is that the most important insurance for our families is uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Why? Because it protects you and me for our own injuries in the event the at-fault driver does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance to fully cover the innocent party’s injuries. My intent in writing this to educate South Carolina drivers so that they are not surprised when they discover that the insurance covering their injuries is limited to the insurance carried by the at-fault driver.
Let’s start by discussing the various types of insurance available to South Carolina drivers.
This is the coverage that provides protection for you when you cause an accident and injure a third party. The South Carolina Financial Responsibility Act requires a minimum of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. My recommendation is that you buy as much liability insurance as you can afford, depending on your assets and what you have to lose. A seriously injured individual can go after your personal assets if you don’t have sufficient liability coverage. With our present health care system, if you sneeze wrong on someone they can rack up more bills than the minimum limits very quickly. In addition, a judgment in South Carolina stays on your record for 10 years, so while you may have very few assets to protect when the accident occurs, you may hit the lottery at some point and be forced to satisfy an excess judgment or verdict. Therefore, you should definitely limit your exposure to this by getting as much liability coverage as possible. I recommend limits of $50,000 at a minimum. This is critical when we get to underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage, described below, as the limits cannot exceed your liability insurance.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM)
In my opinion this is the most important insurance to purchase to protect your family. I recommend UIM coverage equal to your liability limits of at least $50,000. UIM coverage protects you when an at-fault driver doesn’t have enough insurance. By way of example, if you are injured in a traffic accident and your medical bills exceed $100,000, and the idiot who ran the red light carries only the minimum $25,000 in liability coverage, you may get stuck paying the difference. UIM coverage is relatively inexpensive considering it will cover more of your bills and help fully compensate you for your injuries. That can bring a lot of peace of mind after your family has been through a serious, life changing accident.
The beauty of UIM coverage is that it also conveys a huge benefit if you have more than one car in the household and both cars have UIM coverage. If you are injured in a car owned by you, you may be able to stack UIM coverage for each vehicle insured in your household. For example, if you own 3 vehicles with UIM coverage of $100,000, you can “stack” all three vehicles for a total of $300,000 in available UIM coverage. Therefore, under the example above, if the injured family member has medical bills of $100,000, you would be able to collect $25,000 from the at-fault driver, then your UIM would kick in to cover your medical bills, pain and suffering and other consequential damages up to $300,000 over and above the liability coverage.
One other benefit of UIM coverage is that you may be able to recover under any UIM policy within the household as long as you are related to the owner of that car. So if grandma has another car in the household make sure she has UIM coverage too so everyone is protected. One final point is that all of your UIM coverage should be the same amount on all vehicles because the stacking of coverages is based upon the amount of UIM coverage available on the vehicle involved in the collision. Thus, even if you have $100,000 in coverage on two vehicles at home, but the one you are injured in has only $25,000, you would only be able to stack $25,000 for a total of $75,000. This is called the “measuring vehicle” standard.
The insurance law of “stacking” and UIM is legally complex, even for lawyers practicing for years, so it is important to hire a skilled car accident and insurance lawyer. So if you’re involved in a Greenville car accident or have been injured due to the negligence of a truck driver or other vehicle where you might need UIM, you should meet with an experienced car crash lawyer who can help maximize the coverage available to you.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM)
Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM) is also required by South Carolina law at minimum limits of $25,000. This coverage protects you when you get hurt by negligent driver who has no insurance, or if you are the victim of a hit-and-run or unidentified vehicle. Similar to UIM, it can be stacked in certain situations. It is important to note that the insurer is required to offer you excess UM coverage above the minimum limits. I recommend UM coverage equal to your liability limits of at least $50,000. Like UIM coverage, UM coverage can be complex and difficult to navigate. If you have questions concerning uninsured motorist coverage as part of your car accident case, you should consult with an experienced car accident lawyer who can help you maximize this coverage.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Medical Payments Coverage
Med Pay coverage is insurance that helps pay your medical bills in the event you are injured in a car wreck. It is usually carries very small coverage limits (usually between $1,000 to $5,000), but it can mean the difference between getting fully compensated from a car accident and receiving little to nothing after paying the medical bills. All you have to do is send in the medical bills to your insurer or the insurer of the car you were occupying when you were in the car wreck and they send you a check. As a pointer, you should always request that the check be sent directly to you or your attorney rather than the medical provider directly.
Don’t think full coverage is enough. Check your policy and call your agent. If you have these coverages, consider getting more. If you don’t, you should get them now, because after the crash, it’s too late.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a due to another driver’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact an experienced car accident lawyer at Hammack Law Firm today for a free consultation. We treat all of our clients like family. We would love the opportunity to help you too.