The scenario is all too familiar – a person is injured in an auto accident only to find out that the other driver had little or no insurance. In reality, especially in times of financial crisis, many drivers go without liability insurance or purchase the minimum amount allowed by law.
You can protect yourself by reviewing your own automobile insurance policy. Your “declarations page” lists your coverages and the premiums you pay for each. The most important items on that page to protect you and your family members are the uninsured (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverages, which apply when you are hurt by a driver with no or little insurance. Further, unlike liability coverage, UM and UIM coverages apply (with some limitations) even when you are not in your own automobile – they follow you around.
It is advisable to have UM and UIM coverages in the same amount as your liability coverage. For example, if your liability coverage is in the amount of $100,000, then your UM and UIM coverages should be $100,000 each. In other words, you should protect yourself and your loved ones at least as much as you protect the other guy.
In West Virginia, unlike most states, UM and UIM are separate coverages. Also, UM coverage is mandatory in West Virginia while UIM coverage is optional (yet still highly advisable). As the name implies, UM coverage will likely be the only source that you have to pay for damages that you suffer when struck by a driver with no liability insurance.
In a situation where you are hurt by a driver without enough insurance, your UIM coverage will apply to any damages that you suffer in excess of his limit. For example, if you suffer $120,000 in damages but the other driver only had $20,000 in liability coverage, your UIM coverage would step in and pay the next $100,000 (if you have that much in coverage).
Check with your insurance agent - you may be surprised at how little additional cost these critical coverages will add to your policy.