By statute and court decision Washington state has developed a consumer friendly law of under insured motorist insurance. Under insured motorist coverage provides you with insurance when the at fault party has no insurance or does not have enough insurance. This coverage is also known by the abbreviations UM and UIM. Lawyers use UM for the completely uninsured driver. If the at fault driver has some insurance, but not enough to fully compensate our client the term UIM is used.
UIM must be offered with any new policy of automobile liability insurance issued in Washington state. If the consumer does not knowingly waive the coverage, in writing, the coverage will be in effect in an amount equal to the liability coverage whether the product was offered or not. This is “first party” coverage affording protection to the named insured, family members and in may cases passengers using the vehicle with permission.
In Washington UIM coverage “floats” on the liability coverage carried by the under insured driver. This floating layer of coverage is available to pay damages exceeding the under insured motorist’s liability coverage plus other first party coverage under PIP or Med Pay.
Non-owned vehicles. One benefit of UIM coverage is that it will provide coverage for you or a family member while riding in an non-owned vehicle. Some insurance companies (Safeco and Country Mutual for example) “float” your UIM coverage on any UIM coverage on the other vehicle. This is known as “excess” insurance. Others (State Farm, many Farmers policies) do not provide “excess” coverage. This is a valuable benefit and you should ask your agent about it when shopping for insurance.
Guest Passenger Coverage. Under Washington law permits but does not require an insurance company to afford UIM coverage to permissive passengers. Look for an exclusion in the UIM coverage for passengers who are covered by the liability coverage of the policy. As with Non-owned vehicles, not all companies offer the same coverage. You could be paying for a premium policy (State Farm for example) only to discover that it does not afford as much coverage as a less expensive policy.
UIM coverage is a tremendous bargain and should not be declined unless the only alternative is no coverage at all.