This is the second post in a series on Georgia automobile insurance. If you missed the first post, you can read it here: Types of Georgia Automobile Insurance
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) is optional in Georgia, but it’s important coverage. That’s why Georgia law requires that UM/UIM be included in every motor vehicle liability policy issued in the state unless the insured actively opts out of the coverage. But, many Georgia drivers do opt out, and those who accept the coverage often take only the minimum amount.
What is UM/UIM Bodily Injury Coverage?
Uninsured motorist coverage, as the name suggests, provides coverage when you are in an accident caused by an uninsured driver. Underinsured motorist coverage offers supplemental coverage when the driver who injures you is insured, but the policy limits are too low to cover your damages.
UM covers both bodily injury and property damage. Property damage will be addressed in greater detail in a later post.
Do I Really Need UM/UIM in Georgia?
If you’re questioning the importance of UM/UIM coverage, consider this: an estimated 12.4% of motorists in Georgia are uninsured. Many states are far worse off: Georgia is ranked 23rd, or right about the middle of the country, for uninsured drivers. But, think about what it means in traffic.
If you’re on the interstate or at a crowded intersection and can see 20-25 cars, odds are that one or two of those drivers is operating without insurance. With more than 7.2 million licensed drivers on the road, that 12.4% estimate means you’re sharing Georgia roads with nearly 9 million uninsured drivers. And, that doesn’t include unlicensed drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 13% of all drivers involved in fatal traffic accidents are unlicensed or driving on an invalid license. Those 13% of drivers account for nearly one in five traffic deaths.
In short, the risk of being hit by an uninsured driver is significant. And, that typically leaves you without recourse. A negligent driver who injures you is still liable for damages, even if they don’t have insurance. But, it’s almost always impossible to collect any meaningful compensation in that situation. The average person simply doesn’t have the assets necessary to cover the costs of a serious injury.
Many insured drivers carry only the state mandatory minimum coverage. For bodily injury, that’s $25,000. While that’s likely sufficient to cover relatively minor injuries, a more serious injury will exceed $25,000 within days. For example, the initial hospital stay after a spinal cord injury averages about $140,000–and that’s not including follow-up care and rehabilitation. The average first-year cost is nearly $200,000.
Of course, that’s just one example. And, it only includes actual medical expenses, not lost work time or intangible damages like pain and suffering. So, it’s in your best interest to purchase UM/UIM coverage to ensure that your medical expenses and other losses are covered if you’re injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.
How Much UM/UIM Do I Need?
The right amount of coverage for you depends on a variety of factors. There’s no one “right” amount of coverage for everyone. Weigh the cost, the benefits, and the risks of having inadequate coverage before you make your decision.
You can reject UM/UIM coverage. But, if you choose to purchase it, the same minimums apply to this type of coverage as to liability coverage. The default is that your UM coverage will be in the same amounts as your liability coverage. Just as you can reject the coverage entirely, you can opt for UM coverage with lower limits than your liability limits. But, you can’t go the other way. In other words, you can’t purchase more protection for yourself than you are purchasing for those you might injure on the road.
When making your choice, it is important to understand the difference between non-stackable (also sometimes called “reduction” or “traditional” coverage) and stackable (also known as “add-on” or “excess” coverage). Stackable coverage is more expensive, but with good reason. With non-stackable coverage, the responsible driver’s insurance counts against your limit.
For instance, if you have $50,000 in non-stackable UM/UIM bodily injury coverage and the responsible driver has $25,000, you can collect a maximum of $25,000 from the other driver’s insurer and $25,000 from yours, for a total of your $50,000 coverage. However, if the coverage is stackable, your own limit is available on top of the other driver’s coverage, for a possible total of $75,000.
Using Your UM/UIM Coverage
Many people are reluctant to file a claim with their own insurer, partly due to concern about increased premiums. Fortunately, Georgia law prohibits insurance companies from raising your rates due to an accident you weren’t responsible for. But, you can’t afford to delay. Waiting too long to put your insurer on notice could result in denial of your claim. Check your insurance policy for any relevant deadlines and, if you’re uncertain, err on the side of immediate notification.
UM/UIM is an important part of your Georgia automobile insurance package. Rejecting coverage or keeping coverage low simply to lower premiums can be a serious mistake.
Atlanta attorney ReShea Balams fights for maximum compensation for people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence, including victims of motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, medical malpractice and more. The Balams Firm offers free, no-obligation consultations so injury victims can gather the information they need to make good decisions in difficult times. You can schedule yours right now by calling 855-352-2727 or filling out the contact form on this page.