All automobiles insured in Vermont, by statute (codified at 23 V.S.A. § 800), must carry liability insurance. Liability insurance pays third parties for injury or property loss caused by the driver. Many vehicle owners don't even know that their motor vehicle insurance policies include coverage for injuries caused by other drivers who are uninsured and underinsured. These coverages are usually referred to in the insurance world as UM (for uninsured) and UIM (for under-insured). This insurance is always at least equal to the amount of liability insurance that you have for your vehicle. That is, if your policy insures you to compensate people for your negligent driving in the amount of $100,000.00, you have at least equal amount of UM or UIM coverage. This does not mean you cannot purchase more UM or UIM coverage. It is usually relatively inexpensive to get additional coverage either with your auto policy or in what is called as separate umbrella policy. After reading this, you may want to contact your insurance agent to make sure you carry adequate UM and UIM coverage. Surprisingly, many insurance agents neglect to inform customers about the importance of this type of coverage, or discuss how little it costs to add extra coverage. The difference in cost between the minimal $50,000 per person coverage and more adequate $300,000 or $500,000 coverage can be a little as $20 or $30 a year.
UM and UIM coverages protect you, members of your family household, and the passengers in your vehicle, from drivers who either fail to carry any insurance, or who do not have enough insurance to pay for the injuries they have caused. The minimum liability insurance coverage required by law in Vermont is $25,000.00. This amount is often inadequate to provide appropriate compensation to people injured in motor vehicle collisions. It is also alarming that many drivers flaunt the financial responsibility laws and drive without any insurance at all, let alone the minimum coverage required by law. If you do not have adequate UM and UIM insurance on your own policy, another driver's failure to carry adequate liability insurance could leave you without proper compensation for your injuries in the event of a auto collision. Under Vermont law, every motor vehicle policy must have at least $50,000 per person / $100,000 per accident of UM and UIM coverage.
So, if you have $50,000 in UIM insurance, and the other driver has only $25,000 of liability insurance, your policy would be able to cover your damages above the $25,000.00 that would be paid by the liable driver, up to a total of $50,000.00. In other words, you would have up to $25,000 ($50,000 minus $25,000) in potential coverage available under your UM/UIM policy.
If you are injured in a collision caused by another driver who has no car insurance or too little car insurance (such minimum $25,000 per person coverage), you have the right to make a claim against your own insurance company for the unpaid medical bills, lost income, your pain and suffering, and any disability and disfigurement.
You always need to be very careful if you attempt to settle an injury claim with another driver's insurance company. Likewise, you should be very careful when dealing with your own insurer on a UM or UIM claim. There are many potential pitfalls. If you have an injury claim and believe you may need the benefit of your UM or UIM coverage, you must put your insurance company on notice so as to comply with the terms of your insurance contract. When you do this, your insurance company in a sense becomes an opposing party to your claim. Remember, the insurance company's goal is to always pay the minimum amount possible on any claim. So, your insurance company will likely not be looking out for you to help you maximize your reasonable and just compensation.
It often happens that people are covered under more that one UM/UIM policy. Typically, if you have separate policies on separate vehicles, or umbrella policies or motorcycle policies, you may have UM/UIM coverage under all the policies. Often, these policies can be added together to provide you maximum coverage. This is referred to as stacking your policies. Some times the insurers write their policies with an aim toward preventing stacking of policies, these are called anti-stacking provisions. The courts have often voided these anti-stacking provisions. We handled one such case where the insurer claimed that a motor cycle policy UM/UIM provisions could not be added in with, or stacked, with other auto policies. It turned out they were wrong and this increased the injured party's insurance by $50,000.00. Another fact pattern which can give rise to stacking is if you are injured while riding as a passenger in someone else's vehicle, you may be entitled to combine, or "stack," UM/UIM coverage under both the driver's policy as well as under your own auto policy. It can be difficult to interpret the opaque and stilted language found in these auto policies. Most consumers never read their insurance policies. We can help sort out the complex coverage issues that arise with any policy, and these issues and questions often arise with respect to UM/UIM coverages.
UM and UIM policies include special, and potentially confusing, requirements for bringing claims. It is critical that you comply with the contractual terms of your UM/UIM policy before you settle any injury claim with the other driver's insurance company. The UM/UIM insurer may refuse to pay benefits if you do not get their written permission to settle with the other driver's insurance company, or comply with obligations to give statements concerning your claim.
We can help you understand and protect your rights under your own insurance policy, and help you determine whether you have a claim for uninsured or under-insured motor vehicle coverage under your policy. As with any case, our goal is to help you present the strongest case possible given the facts of your case and to explore the availability of all possible insurances, be they insurances of liable third parties or your own policies UM/UIM provisions.
As with a claim against the other driver or his or her insurer, the goal is the same: to investigate and gather and present the evidence necessary to support your claim, including full analysis your medical bills and records, your lost income, to do a complete assessment of your physical pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life, or any disability or disfigurement, so that your claim is fairly and justly compensated for your injuries.
If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury or death because of a motor vehicle accident, and have questions about a potential uninsured or underinsured insurance claim, please call me personally at 802 658 6415, or, submit a confidential online inquiry form.
An initial consultation is free of charge. We take insurance cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that you will not pay any legal fee until you receive a monetary settlement or judgment. As with all claims, they can be lost is not filed with a court before they are extinguished by the passage of time, that is the statute of limitations. Please feel free to call our Williston, VT office to speak about your underinsured insurance claim and prepare your case so do not lose your right to fair and just compensation.