Getting into a car accident is a frightening and anxiety-inducing experience on its own. To find out that the driver who caused your accident does not have enough insurance coverage to pay for your injuries- whether it be medical bills, lost wages, or pain and suffering – makes it overwhelming.
Unfortunately, this is the case in more traffic accidents than many realize. In Virginia, drivers are legally obligated to drive with minimum bodily injury insurance of $25,000/$50,000. The first number ($25,000) means that the insurance company will pay up to $25,000 per injured person. The second number ($50,000) means that the insurance company will only pay up to $50,000 per collision, irrespective of how many people were injured in the collision.
If a driver with minimal insurance causes a collision, there is a good chance that the injured parties will not be fully compensated for the total amount of their medical bills, lost wages, mental anguish, pain, and inconvenience. This is when an injured party’s underinsured motorist coverage comes into play.
Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is insurance that you pay for in your policy in order to provide coverage in situations where the at-fault driver does not have enough coverage in their policy. Our recommendation is that your UIM coverage should be the same amount as your bodily injury insurance. If your bodily injury insurance is more than your UIM coverage, you are providing more protection to other people than to yourself and your family.
When UIM coverages applies, the at-fault driver’s insurance acts as a credit towards the UIM coverage. For example, if an individual with minimal insurance causes a collision and the injured party suffers $40,000 in damages, the injured party would collect the policy limits of the at-fault driver ($25,000) and would then collect $15,000 from their own UIM coverage in order to be made whole.
Recent Changes in Virginia’s UM/UIM Law
Starting in 2016, the Virginia legislature changed the underinsured motorist statute (Va. Code § 38.2-2206). This law, specifies that anyone with an insurance policy issued on or after January 1, 2016 can settle with the at-fault driver’s bodily injury insurer for the policy limits, and then continue against their UIM insurance. Before this law, if an injured party needed UIM coverage to fully compensate them for their injuries, an injured party could not settle with the at-fault driver’s insurance without releasing their UIM claim. This law is important because it helps facilitate settlement with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Going back to the above example, if the at-fault driver has $25,000 in bodily injury insurance and the injured party has $40,000 in damages with $50,000 in UIM coverage, the injured party can now settle with the at-fault driver for $25,000 and release the at-fault driver. The injured party can then continue against the UIM carrier to recover the remaining $15,000. This law helps speed up the process and helps injured parties avoid costs of additional litigation.
In March of this year, the Virginia legislature updated the underinsured motorist statute again with SB 1293. This law clarifies that settling with the at-fault driver for the policy limits does not release any other parties. Further, this law clarifies that there is no attorney-client privilege between the at-fault driver and the injured party’s UIM counsel, and the injured party’s UIM counsel does not have a duty to defend the at-fault driver. These changes are important because it reinforces that once the injured party settles and releases the at-fault driver, the injured party is still able to recover from their own UIM insurance.
We can’t stress strongly enough that these new laws make it imperative that you protect yourself by maximizing your UIM coverage in your insurance policies. If you have any questions or think you may benefit from these recent changes to the law, please contact me. I am happy to discuss at 703-836-3366. You can also email me at email@example.com, or visit us at curciolaw.com and we will follow up with you right away.
Rakin Hamad joined Curcio Law as an associate in August 2018 after graduating from George Mason Law School. During law school, Rakin demonstrated his dedication to client advocacy and was a member of the trial advocacy association, the pro bono society, and the George Mason Law Review. His approach to the law mirrors the firm’s philosophy of treating each client with commitment, compassion and character. Contact Rakin at firstname.lastname@example.org.