Because the law only requires a minimum amount of liability insurance coverage for motor vehicles (currently just $25,000), unfortunately, often times the minimum insurance coverage amounts will not be sufficient to pay for all of an injured person’s damages including their medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Nevertheless, the insurance company for the driver who caused the accident cannot be required to pay more than the amount of coverage their insured driver paid them to provide in their insurance policy.
So, what can you do if you are injured in an accident caused by a driver who in violation of the law drove without having any insurance at all?
UM COVERAGE THROUGH YOUR POLICY
This is where UM insurance comes into play. UM insurance stands first and foremost for Uninsured Motorist.
A person who illegally drives a vehicle without any liability insurance coverage in place to pay for any damage they cause while driving is an uninsured motorist. A person who has at least the minimum amount of legally required insurance but whose insurance policy is not big enough to pay for all of your actual damages including your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering is an underinsured motorist.
YOU LIKELY HAVE UM COVERAGE
Georgia law requires all insurers to include at least a minimum amount of UM coverage in every auto insurance policy they issue in this state unless the customer declines UM coverage in writing. So, unless you specifically told your car insurance company in writing that you do not want UM coverage, you will have at least a minimum amount of UM coverage as part of your overall auto insurance policy.
You also must elect in writing if you want your UM coverage to be only the minimum amount required instead of an amount equal to the amount of liability coverage you pay for under your policy. So, for example, unless you elect otherwise in writing when you purchase or renew your insurance policy, if you are insured for damages you cause in an accident up to $100,000 then you would also have $100,000 in UM coverage.
HOW UM COVERAGE WORKS TO PROVIDE YOU COMPENSATION
UM coverage is designed to provide you, as a person injured in an accident caused by another driver, with an additional source of funds to cover your damages if the driver who caused the accident does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance. Thus, in our example above, the other driver had no insurance so you would then have to file a claim with your own UM insurance company to try to recover for your medical bills, lost wages plus an additional amount to compensate you for your pain and suffering. Because the other driver had no insurance, your only resource to obtain insurance coverage for your damages would be to file a claim with your own UM insurance company. Thankful you have $100,000.00 in coverage to compensate you for your damages.
MAKE SURE YOU NOTIFY YOUR AUTO INSURANCE COMPANY OF ACCIDENT
Despite the fact that UM coverage is provided as part of your own car insurance policy that you pay for, your car insurance company will not automatically pay you the available UM benefits you request when you file a claim. There are several hoops that must be jumped through before you will be in a position to receive any available UM benefits.
The first and most important step is that you MUST notify your UM insurance company of the accident as soon as possible after it happens. In fact, most car insurance policies require the insured person to notify the insurance company in writing of the facts and details of the accident as soon as possible or within a set period of days.
Georgia law affords your UM insurance company the right to investigate the accident themselves to determine who was at fault and what the extent of the damages were. That is why your UM insurer in your policy requires you to notify them of the accident right away so that they can have the opportunity to investigate from the beginning while the accident is still fresh and the evidence is likely all still available.
Because the law views the insurance policy you have with your insurance company as a contract, if you fail to properly notify your UM insurance company of the fact you were in an accident (in writing if that is what the policy requires), even if the accident was clearly not your fault, your UM insurance company can (and will) argue that you breached your insurance contract by failing to provide them timely notice of the accident. If the court agrees that you breached your insurance contract, then it will excuse your UM insurance company from having any legal duty to pay you any UM benefits under your policy.
YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY DOES NOT HAVE YOUR BEST INTEREST AT HEART
When filing a UM claim, you must keep in mind that your own insurance company will handle the claim just like the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Just because it is your insurance company does not mean it has your best interest at hear. Its goal is to minimize what it has to compensate you for your injuries.
If your UM insurance company believes that you were at least partially at fault in the accident or does not believe you were as injured as you claim you were, they may refuse to pay you the full amount you demand for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If they refuse to pay you the reasonable amount you believe you are legally entitled to from your available UM benefits then your only recourse is to file a lawsuit.
However, here is the catch when having to sue your own insurance company. In Georgia, that lawsuit cannot be filed directly against the insurance company. You must sue the at-fault driver even though he or she does not have insurance. Ironically, your UM insurance company has the right under Georgia law to defend the at-fault driver in the lawsuit because they will be responsible for paying any judgment you win against that driver up to the limits of your UM insurance policy.
Thus, why we caution you not to be lulled into thinking that because you are being compensated by your own insurance company you will be treated better. The insurance company will still fight your claim just as if it was the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
This article provides a basic overview of UM insurance in the context of an at-fault driver who has no insurance at all. However, it really only scratches the surface of all the nuances of liability insurance and UM coverage issues in Georgia. Because there are so many hoops to go through and so many things to know, it is always a good idea any time you are injured in an accident to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney right away even if the attorney does not take your case. Experienced personal injury attorneys know how insurance companies operate and can help you navigate the system without the stress and pitfalls of trying to negotiate with the insurance company yourself.