Car wrecks are scary as hell even if you are not badly hurt, especially when the other driver caused the wreck for no good reason. Suffering a horrible injury that dramatically affects every aspect of your life takes it to another level by affecting your school, marriage, parenting, work, and overall quality of life. In that situation, the last thing you want to make matters even worse is having nothing available to pay for the costs of medical treatment that is uncovered by health insurance. Whether you have outstanding health insurance or none at all, it is not fair for you to have to come out of pocket for co-pays, deductibles, etc. for something that was not your fault. This post on “UM coverage” is the first in a series that I am writing to arm Georgians with information to better their lives by knowing the law before they need it, rather than after it is too late. I hope you learn something in the series; and, that you will contact me for additional information on any particular topic if you need it.
I have represented people who were hurt in car wrecks caused by other drivers for over 17 years. During that time, one consistent thing that has come up is that my Clients almost always wish that they had purchased 1) more UM coverage and 2) the right kind of UM coverage. The problem is that most folks have no idea what that even means until it is too late. If even one person reads this and obtains appropriate UM coverage that “saves their bacon” later, writing this post will be well worth it.
When the other driver is at fault, their liability insurer is on the hook for the limits of their policy. The problem is…in Georgia, you can legally drive with only $25,000 in liability coverage.
Georgia consumers must have automobile liability insurance for at least the minimum limits required by law to drive on the Georgia public roads and highways. The minimum limits of liability required under Georgia law are Bodily injury Liability of $25,000 per person, $50,000 per occurrence, and Property Damage liability of $25,000 per occurrence. Liability insurance is insurance that pays damages to others, on behalf of an insured, for injury to or damaged property of others, up to the policy limit, which an insured may have caused by his negligence or may protect him against claims made against him by someone who alleges he was at-fault.
Is there a problem with this? Ask one of my Clients badly injured in a wreck someone else caused. When you do, they will say that $25,000 is not nearly enough to pay for treatment for many injuries; or, so much as a couple of nights in the hospital. Pain and suffering? Lost wages from time off work? Not a chance!
While opinions may vary as to whether Georgia should have raised its mandatory liability limits long ago, at least at the present time, it is what it is, as they say. If you disagree with the rule of law, contact your local Representative or Senator. The other thing you can do is make sure you are not left saddled with a lifetime of debt for something that was not your fault. One way to accomplish this is by seriously considering purchasing the right kind of UM auto coverage.
One thing my Clients who have purchased UM coverage definitely has shown a lack of understanding about is what kind of UM coverage they have. For some reason, my Clients never seem to come to me with an understanding that they were sold one of two very different kinds of UM coverage by their insurance agent; and, that the differences were never explained to them. This blows my mind because I see the impact on my Clients’ lives by this seemingly mundane “check the box” decision so often. Let’s break down the differences.
The first kind of UM coverage is what I have heard at least one insurance agent refer to as “regular UM.” The term I use for this coverage is “offset UM.” It is less expensive and often what is chosen for UM coverage by my Clients, unfortunately, who lack the knowledge that there is something offering significantly greater protection for just a bit more money. The “offset” means that if you purchase $25,000 of UM coverage, it is offset by the at-fault driver’s liability policy. Since the at-fault driver will have at least $25,000 of insurance, that means that purchasing such a UM policy is completely worthless. The only exceptions to that are two things that are extremely unlikely: 1) the at-fault driver is a “hit and run” who is never captured; or, 2) the at-fault driver is driving a vehicle that lacks any liability insurance, whatsoever.
The second UM variety is what is commonly referred to as “excess” or “add on” coverage, as in excess or supplemental to any liability policies. Using the same scenario as above, purchasing “excess” coverage would mean that there is no offset; and, once the $25,000 liability policy of the at-fault driver is used up, there is another $25,000 payable for medical bills, pain, and suffering, or lost wages. In other words, if just your medical bills alone are $50,000, checking the “excess” box when choosing insurance could mean the difference between incurring $25,000 in debt versus $0 debt at the conclusion of your case.
Ask your insurance agent UM coverage. For instance, ask them how much choosing “excess UM” costs versus “offset UM.” From there, after you know the facts, make the best financial decision for you and your family. That way, if you ever find yourself seriously injured at the fault of someone else, your total available insurance coverage does not necessarily have to be dictated by the choice of the at-fault driver. This is especially important when that same driver opted to get the cheapest coverage they could find just because the State allowed them to do it.