Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage

Although most people would never consider driving without automobile liability insurance, many people do. An estimated 30 million vehicle owners in the U.S. drive without any insurance, according to a study by the Insurance Research Council (IRC), an organization financed by insurance companies. Nationwide, the number of uninsured drivers is about 13 percent. In Massachusetts, the rate is far lower, between 4 and 5 percent.

Those without insurance typically don’t carry it because they can’t afford the cost. Those who do buy insurance often buy the minimum compulsory limits, which in Massachusetts are $20,000.00 per claim, and $40,000.00 total per accident (regardless of how many people are hurt). The compulsory minimums apply not only to private vehicles, but surprisingly also apply to taxicabs. Unfortunately, the mandatory bodily injury coverage amounts are insufficient for any serious car accident. This is because on average, medical treatment for a non-incapacitating injury from a car crash costs $23,400.00, and the average cost of more severe incapacitating injuries comes in at about $72,700.00.

Each year, many people suffer serious injuries, only to discover that the responsible party has insufficient insurance coverage to compensate them. Not surprisingly, people who are insufficiently insured rarely have any additional assets available to satisfy a judgment against them. In such instances, the injured person must either take what is available from the responsible party, or make a claim against his or her own insurance company if their own coverage is exceeds the responsible party’s.

How to protect yourself from uninsured and underinsured drivers

The best way to protect against uninsured and underinsured drivers is to buy uninsured motorist (“UM”) and under­insured motorist (“UIM”) coverage. Your UM/UIM coverage stands in place of the other person's missing or insufficient liability coverage, if he or she is at fault in an accident with you. This can be important because your own liability insurance (bodily injury coverage) might not pay for injuries to you and your passengers if you’re not at fault in the accident.

In Massachusetts, the insurers must issue the Standard Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Policy (7th Edition). A copy of the complete standard policy may be viewed here Standard Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Policy. Coverage against uninsured drivers is under Part 3 of the standard policy, and coverage against underinsured drivers is under Part 12. Both Part 3 and Part 12 cover you while occupying your auto, occupying an auto you do not own, or if injured as a pedestrian. In addition, this coverage applies to any household member, while occupying your auto, while occupying an auto not owned by you, or if injured as a pedestrian. This coverage also applies to anyone else while occupying your auto, provided that they do not have a Massachusetts auto policy of their own or are covered by a Massachusetts auto policy of another household member providing underinsured auto coverage.

With this in mind, we highly recommend that you purchase UM/UIM coverage with the same limits as your own liability coverage. This is ideally at least $250,000.00 per claim and $500,000.00 per accident. At a minimum, you should purchase $100,000.00 bodily injury per claim and $300,000.00 bodily injury per accident, and $100,000 property damage. The additional UM/UIM coverage costs far less than primary bodily injury coverage, so choosing the right amounts will not break the bank.

It is important to keep in mind that UM and UIM coverages are not stacked on top of the at-fault party’s bodily injury coverage; they are only triggered when the UM/UIM coverage amount exceeds the at-fault person’s coverage. For example, if the at-fault party has compulsory $20,000.00/$40,000.00 bodily injury coverage limits, and you have $20,000.00/$40,000.00 in UM/UIM coverage, then you would not be able to make a claim against your own insurer if the value of your claim exceeded $20,000.00. You would need to have coverage that exceeds the at-fault driver’s $20,000.00/$40,000.00 in order to obtain compensation.

If you have questions about insurance coverage or have been involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, give us a call. We’re happy to discuss your options.


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Brooks & Crowley LLP serves clients throughout Massachusetts, and has offices in Dedham, Boston and Norwell


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