I probably get five calls a week from people in Clark County who have been injured in a car accident and who lack the financial resources to recover from the collision. Medical bills, wage loss, property damage, rental cars – these things add up quickly. Indeed, as a personal injury lawyer in Vancouver, Washington, I am daily reminded that a) car accidents are expensive and b) people often lack the money they need to get lives back on track after a collision.
My advice – across the board, 100 percent of the time – is to make sure that you have sufficient insurance coverage in case someone else hits you with their car. No, it does not matter how good of a driver you are. Let me explain why.
Insurance is a service that allows all drivers to equally share the risk of driving. Since everyone who drives faces the same amount of risk, the logic goes, we should share the risk of driving. That is why almost every state (except for Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Virginia) requires all drivers to have liability insurance. For Washington, see RCW 46.30.020.
Under liability insurance, you pay a monthly premium to your insurer. When you cause someone else injury or death with your car, or if you damage another person’s property with your car, your insurance company pays for your liability in that situation.
Seems simple, right? Well, it gets more complicated. Your insurance company pays for your liability only up to your policy limits. A policy limit is the maximum amount of money that your insurance company will pay under your insurance policy. In Washington, every driver must have policy limits of at least $25,000 for bodily injury liability (with a total of $50,000 in case two people are injured). See RCW 46.29.090. These laws, when taken together, means that every driver in Washington should be automatically ready to pay for $25,000 for injuring another person with a motor vehicle.
There are two main problems with the scheme. First, not everyone buys liability insurance. In fact, Washington has fairly high level of uninsured motorists, with anywhere from 16-30 percent of motorists failing to purchase sufficient coverage. Second, car accidents routinely cause more bodily injury than $25,000. If this happens, and if you’re the at-fault party, you’re probably on the hook for the excess judgment. Believe me, you would be surprised to know how often a person lacks sufficient coverage to cover the damage and injury they cause with their motor vehicle.
If you are not the at-fault party, luckily, liability coverage is not the only kind of coverage. All motorists can (and should – that’s my advice 100 percent of the time!) buy uninsured and under-insured motorist coverage (frequently referred to as “UIM” coverage). You buy these policies from your own insurance company in addition to your liability coverage. With this coverage, if you get injured by a person who lacks sufficient insurance coverage, your own insurance company covers whatever that driver cannot (up to the policy limits, of course). Additionally, personal injury protection or “PIP” coverage must be offered by all insurers, and provides easy access to quick money for some costs associated with a motor vehicle collision, including medical expenses, lost wages, etc. For more information on these policies, see Bill Robison’s post from last year, which can be seen here.
In the end, my message is simple: make sure you have full insurance coverage! If you get hit by an uninsured or undersinsured driver, you will need it. Money – easy, quick access to it – can give you the flexibility to lessen the impact that a motor vehicle collision has on your life.