Uninsured Motorist Insurance Coverage
What happens if you're hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver?
If you're the victim in a motor vehicle accident, you expect the at-fault driver's insurance company to pay for your damages. Unfortunately, though, not all drivers carry sufficient insurance coverage to pay for all the damages resulting from an accident. So, what can you do if you've been in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver?
Using Uninsured Motorist Coverage After an Accident
Uninsured motorist (UM) insurance coverage can help ensure that you don't end up in debt for an accident that wasn't your fault.
Liability insurance is a requirement for all Georgia drivers. The minimum required coverage is merely $25,000. In most cases, this is simply too little coverage in the event of a collision that causes severe, life changing injuries.
While Georgia law does not require motorists to have uninsured or underinsured (UM) coverage, it is certainly advisable to carry as much UM coverage as you can comfortably afford. At McAleer Law, we've seen all too many clients with severe injuries caused by drivers who had too little or no liability insurance coverage at all.
We advise all our clients to carry at least $500,000 in UM coverage. You may be surprised how affordable such coverage is. If you are on a tight budget, it may even make sense to increase your deductible by a few hundred dollars to make room in your budget for good UM coverage.
There are typically two types of UM coverage — coverage that is added to the at-fault driver's liability coverage, and coverage that is offset by the at-fault driver's liability coverage.
For example, assume the at-fault driver has $25,000 in liability coverage and you have $25,000 in UM coverage that is added on to the liability coverage. In this scenario, you have a total of $50,000 in coverage. Assuming you have $50,000 in damages, you can collect that amount in insurance benefits.
If you have $25,000 in UM coverage that is offset by the liability coverage, and you have $50,000 in damages, then you can collect only $25,000, as your UM is offset by (subtracted from) the liability coverage. Thus, if possible, you should obtain UM coverage that is added on to any liability coverage.
In the scenario of offsetting coverage, your UM would have to be greater than $25,000 to collect more than $25,000. For instance, if you had $50,000 in offsetting coverage and $75,000 in damages, you could collect the liability coverage of $25,000 and $25,000 from your UM policy for a total of $50,000.
Understanding Georgia's Uninsured Motorist Statute
American Alternative Ins. Co. v. Bennett (2015) is a case that explains what is meant by the “physical contact” provision of Georgia’s uninsured motorist statute, O.C.G.A. § 37-7-11, which states that unless a car accident is corroborated by eye witnesses, the injured party seeking money damages due to a hit and run must prove that there was “actual physical contact.” In this case, a logging truck coming from the opposite direction of the plaintiff’s truck caused its load (a log) to strike the plaintiff’s windshield. The glass from the shattered windshield struck the plaintiff in the eyes and face. The Georgia Court of Appeals held that since cargo carried by such a vehicle was not an integral part of the vehicle, there was no “physical contact”.
At McAleer Law, we completely disagrees with the Court of Appeals analysis in this case. Logs in a logging truck are an integral part of the vehicle in that they are secured to the vehicle itself. Such a secured heavy load changes the driving characteristics of such a truck causing the truck to be top heavy and heavier in general. If secured, how can the logs then not be an integral part of the truck? Take this case one step further and the result of this court decision has horrible consequences for innocent drivers.
For instance, what if such a truck lost its load and a stray log (not the actual truck) strikes and causes catastrophic injured to a driver traveling in the opposite direction and is accident goes un-witnessed? Under this decision, if the logging truck or company is uninsured, there can be no recovery under an uninsured motorist policy. We are hopeful that the Georgia Supreme Court will overturn this decision.
If you have questions about an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist, please don't hesitate to call McAleer Law today at 404-622-5337 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.