What Happens if There is Not Enough Insurance?
We all fear being involved in an accident with someone who does not have any insurance at all (uninsured motorist); however, we all too often pay no attention to what what happens when someone causes an accident who does not have enough insurance coverage available to cover our injuries (underinsured motorist). This later example is unfortunately an all too common scenario, leaving countless injury victims with devastating injuries and an undeserved financial burden.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a driver who does not have enough insurance coverage to provide the full reimbursement for your harms and losses, contact a St. Louis underinsured motorist lawyer for a free consultation.
What is an Underinsured Motorist?
An underinsured motorist is someone who has caused an accident and does not have enough liability insurance coverage to cover the victims loss. Unlike an uninsured motorist in Missouri, an underinsured motorist has purchased liability insurance, but their policy limits are not enough to cover the settlement necessary to fully reimburse the victim for their injuries.
Missouri law mandates that all drivers must carry liability insurance while driving. Missouri’s Financial Responsibility Law, codified in Chapter 303 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, specifically Section 303.025(1), mandates that all vehicles registered in the State of Missouri carry no less than $25,000 of liability insurance per person, and $50,000 per accident. (This means that absent additional coverage, the most any one victim can recover for their injuries is $25,000, and if there are more than 2 victims, they all must split $50,000.) The 25/50 liability mandate is the minimum liability and uninsured motorist coverage one must have to be ‘legal’ in Missouri.
In the common scenario where a reckless driver with minimum 25/50 insurance limits causes a crash and significantly injures someone, the victim is only entitled to $25,000 from the reckless drivers insurance company. If the victim has broken bones or suffered a serious injury, an emergency room visit or helicopter ride alone may eat up all $25,000 available. This leaves the victim with the responsibility to pay for medical bills over $25,000, lost wages, future medical care, and numerous other injury damages. Worse yet is when an underinsured driver hurts more than two people in the same crash and all the victims must fight over the $50,000 available. While not fair, it is extremely common. However, your underinsured motorist coverage may be available to help.
NOTE: An underinsured motorist may have liability limits above the Missouri mandated minimums and still not have enough to cover the damages they cause. If a driver has $100,000 of liability coverage and causes $200,000 of damage, they are considered an underinsured driver.
What is Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
Underinsured motorist coverage in Missouri is an optional add on to your insurance policy. Underinsured motorist coverage is protection for the victim in the event someone causes an accident and does not have enough liability coverage to pay for all the harms caused. Missouri law does not mandate drivers carry underinsured motorist coverage, but does mandate drivers have uninsured motorist coverage.
NOTE: Underinsured motorist coverage is something you must purchase in order to be proactive for the rainy day when someone hits you or your family and does not have enough coverage to pay for the damage caused.
How Do I Purchase Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
When speaking to your insurance agent, you must specifically request that ‘underinsured motorist coverage’ be added to your policy. There will be an extra premium charged depending on how much underinsured motorist coverage you purchase. Generally speaking, an insurance company will allow you to purchase whatever limits of underinsured motorist coverage that make you feel comfortable in increments of $25,000, $50,000, $100,000, $300,000, $500,000, or $1,000,000 and up.
It is important to understand that when you purchase automobile liability insurance, Missouri law mandates the insurance is sold automatically with a minimum of $25,000 of ‘uninsured motorist coverage’. However, it does not mandate that it come with ‘underinsured motorist coverage’. Do not be fooled by the slight difference in wording. Uninsured motorist coverage comes into play when the person who caused the crash has no insurance, while underinsured motorist coverage comes into play when the person who caused the crash does not have enough liability insurance coverage.
NOTE: You are also allowed to increase your uninsured motorist coverage limits above the required state minimums of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. It is a good practice to purchase limits of uninsured and underinsured coverage that are similar. Ask yourself, if an irresponsible driver has no insurance, or only the minimum coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, how much insurance may be needed to protect me and my family if tragedy strikes?
How do I Make an Underinsured Motorist Claim?
Many people falsely believe that simply because they have underinsured motorist benefits with their auto insurance company, all they have to do is ask for them when the time comes. Unfortunatley this is not at all the case. As a St. Louis accident lawyer, Chris Dixon is witness to the tactics and tricks played by large insurance companies. These for profit companies make money one way: bring in more in premiums than they pay out for claims. This presents a conflict of interest when victims seek full reimbursement for their harms and losses.
In order to make a claim for underinsured motorist benefits, it is extremely important you read your entire insurance contract to understand what must be done. Unlike mandated uninsured motorist coverage in Missouri which is governed by Missouri public policy, underinsured motorist coverage is governed by the terms of contract. When you purchase underinsured motorist coverage, you enter into a contract with your insurance company that provides certain obligations you must perform if you want coverage to apply. If you fail to follow the terms of the contract (the contract is simply your insurance policy), you may cut off your ability to pursue an underinsured motorist claim, despite making all of your payments on time.
Should I Hire a Missouri Underinsured Accident Lawyer?
Most of us do not read our entire insurance policy prior to signing on the dotted line and making our payments. It is often the case that the first time we actually figure out what our insurance policy says is after we have have an accident. It is only then we discover our policy is a maze of disclaimers and reasons why coverage is not provided. It is extremely important that you have someone who is able to navigate this complex document and provide answers after an auto accident.
Interpreting and abiding by the contract/policy is only the first step in the process. Once you have jumped through all the hoops to make sure you are able to pursue a underinsured motorist case, you will next have to fight your insurance company on the amount required to make up for all your losses. If your underinsured motorist coverage has liability limits of $100,000 for instance, this is the maximum of what you may receive. Generally, your underinsured motorist insurance company has a funny way of valuing your loss at a lower figure than you.
If your insurance company refuses to reimburse you for the full amount required to cover all your damages, hope is not lost. An injury lawyer with experience standing up to insurance companies will file an underinsured motorist lawsuit and allow a community jury to decide the proper amount of reimbursement. Large insurance corporations do not have the final word.
Contact an Underinsured Motorist Lawyer
Before you sign anything or speak to any insurance company, contact an experienced underinsured motorist lawyer for information on how to protect your case. There is no charge to talk and a simple conversation about your legal rights may be the difference in your ability to bring an underinsured motorist claim. There is truly no obligation. In fact, we welcome a call before you purchase insurance in the first place to provide insight into the policy language.
Christopher Dixon has has helped injury victims recover over $34,000,000 in judgments, settlements, and verdicts. For his aggressive representation, the National Trial Lawyers Association has named him among the Top 100 Trial Lawyers and Top 40 Under 40. Mr. Dixon is also a Life-Time Member of the Million Dollar Advocates forum.
There is no fee to discuss your case and if you are unable to come to our office, we are happy to come to you. Call a Missouri and St. Louis underinsured motorist lawyer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 314-409-7060, or toll-free at 855-40-CRASH.