Minimum Insurance Leaves Drivers Vulnerable to Uninsured and Underinsured Negligent Drivers

If you drive a car in Virginia, you are required by law to carry liability insurance of at least $25,000 of coverage per claimant with a cap of $50,000 if multiple claims arise from the same accident. There are additional optional coverages to complete what people often describe as “full coverage”. Many people, however, who believe they are adequately protected because they have “full coverage,” can unfortunately find that they are actually at risk, and often victimized, because they failed to purchase coverage amounts that insure against the negligence of someone else. While negligent drivers are generally liable for the costs arising from their negligence, the insurance coverage of the claimant is often the only resource available to satisfy a judgement against the at-fault driver. Therefore many personal injury victims do not receive compensation because they, themselves, did not purchase adequate insurance.

The risk is obvious when a driver commits the criminal act of driving without any insurance whatsoever. However, a lesser, but still substantial, risk may present itself when an individual is injured by a negligent driver who is abiding by the law and carrying the minimum insurance. For example, assume Sue is seriously injured by the acts of Dee Linquent, a negligent driver. Sue incurs medical bills of $50,000, and even with the best efforts of medical science, suffers a permanent disability that limits her quality of life and future earning potential. If Dee was abiding by Virginia law and had a minimum limits policy, then the insurance company insuring him would be responsible for paying $25,000 towards Sue’s total damage claim (which would be far greater than the $25,000 policy limit given the amount of medical bills and degree of injury). If Dee has no other liability insurance, then Sue would look to her own insurance company for “underinsured” coverage. However, if Sue’s insurance is also minimum limits, then her own insurance company would have no obligation to contribute towards her injury claim and her total recovery would be only $25,000. If Dee had no insurance whatsoever, then instead of receiving a goose egg, Sue would make an uninsured claim against her own policy and would be entitled to receive the $25,000 of uninsured benefits. Under both scenarios, Sue would be better positioned to be fully compensated for her injuries if she had higher underinsured/uninsured liability coverage limits.

In these economic times, people understandably don’t want to pay excessive insurance premiums. So we often tell ourselves we will drive responsibly and without error. But the greater risk is being injured by every other driver on the roadway.

In reviewing your auto insurance, consider the value of the underinsured/uninsured coverage equal to, or even greater than, the value of the liability coverage and set the coverage amounts at a level adequate to protect yourself in the event of a catastrophic accident. Think about medical payments coverage, an additional protection that is often remarkably inexpensive and indifferent to fault. Consideration should be given to the possible presence of additional sources of insurance such as life and disability insurance. In the absence of such other insurance, if you are in an accident, the automobile liability policy may be the only thing protecting you and your family from financial hardship.

Rex L. Edwards, a partner at Davies, Barrell, Will, Lewellyn & Edwards, PLC., specializes in Personal Injury Law.