Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Claims in Georgia
In the State of Georgia, all resident drivers are required to maintain minimum liability insurance to be allowed to drive legally. The minimum amount of insurance every driver must carry in Georgia is at least $25,000 per person in each accident and $50,000 total per accident. This mandatory amount of basic insurance covers personal injuries that a driver causes someone else to suffer up to the policy limits. NOTE: This blog article will discuss, generally, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in Georgia. This is a very complicated subject in the law and you should not act on the information contained herein without consulting with a knowledgeable attorney.
Most Georgia drivers follow the law. However, many Georgia drivers ignore their requirement to carry automobile insurance and drive without it at all - some because they choose not to obey the law, others because they are considered risky drivers, having lots of speeding tickets or prior accidents and cannot afford the expensive premiums that insurance companies charge. Many others buy only the minimum amount of coverage and take the risk of not having sufficient insurance to pay for the injuries and damages they might cause.
Moreover, there are thousands of out-of-state drivers passing through Georgia every day who also may not have any insurance or who carry only minimal insurance required by their state of residence. Like Georgia, every state regulates how much automobile insurance its residents must maintain. However, unlike Georgia, some do not mandate that its resident drivers purchase automobile liability insurance.
Any driver, whether a resident of Georgia or one from out-of-state, who does not have any or adequate insurance places other drivers, passengers and pedestrians at risk of having to pay the overwhelming costs of medical bills or other losses from a resulting accident.
Georgia is among many states that have taken steps to protect its residents from the devastating consequences of being the victim of an uninsured or underinsured driver by enacting laws allowing drivers to purchase "uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage" through their own automobile liability policies. See O.C.G.A. 33-7-11.
What is Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist ("UM/UIM") Coverage?
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage is an addendum to a standard automobile policy that protects a policy injured due to the negligence of another driver when the other driver has no coverage at all or does not have enough insurance to compensate the injured person for his/her injuries.
Georgia's UM/UIM Laws
UM/UIM coverage is issued by a driver's own insurance company as additional or supplemental coverage. The policy holder pays an extra premium for UM/UIM coverage. Insurance companies are obligated to offer their Georgia policy holders UM/UIM coverage at the time they are purchasing liability insurance. If a driver purchasing an automobile liability policy elects not to purchase UM/UIM coverage, he/she must affirmatively refuse it in writing.
Are There Different Kinds of UM/UIM Coverage?
There are two kinds of UM/UIM insurance coverage that a policy holder can buy:
- Excess, or added-on coverage
- Traditional, or reduced coverage
Excess or added-on coverage allows the policy holder to collect from his own insurer up to the policy limits of UM/UIM insurance coverage he/she purchased in addition to the at-fault driver's insurance limits, assuming the damages sustained in the accident are high enough to justify such an award. For example, suppose an injured driver has reasonable and necessary medical bills in the amount of $50,000 as a direct result of a rear-end collision caused by a negligent driver. Assume also that the negligent driver has minimum insurance limits in the amount of $25,000 per person. Further, suppose the injured driver is the only one injured in the accident and has excess UM/UIM coverage with policy limits of $25,000 per person. In such a scenario, the injured driver would be able to recover up to a maximum of $50,000 total - $25,000 from the liability insurance for the at-fault driver and and an additional $25,000 from the injured driver's UM/UIM carrier.
Alternatively, traditional, or reduced coverage, will pay only the difference between the UM/UIM coverage available and what the injured person recovered from the liability carrier. For example, in the above scenario, the injured driver would be able to recover up to the amount of the at-fault driver's policy limits of $25,000, but there would be no UM/UIM claim because the policy would be able to "reduce" from its limits the amount of money the injured person recovered from the at-fault driver's policy. However, if the injured driver has $50,000 per person of UM/UIM coverage, he/she would be able to recover up to an additional $25,000 of compensation because the difference between $50,000 and $25,000 is $25,000. It should also be noted that the traditional and excess variations of UM/UIM coverage are only relevant in accidents caused by underinsured drivers. In situations involving uninsured drivers, the traditional/excess issue would not have any bearing on the injured party's recovery.
The option to buy either type is up to the policy holder. In Georgia, unless the policy holder specifically elects traditional or reduced coverage, the default selection will be added-on coverage, according to O.C.G.A. §33-7-11 (b)(1)(D)(2)(II). Still, it is recommended that Georgia residents expressly select add-on UM coverage rather than reduced UM coverage.
What Is Covered Under a UM Clause?
The scope of what is covered is defined in the policy itself. In general, UM/UIM coverage will compensate the policy holder for medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, and disfigurement, loss of future earning capacity, and other damages. If the policy holder is a passenger in his or someone else's automobile, he/she is covered under his own UM policy. If the policy holder is struck by a vehicle as a pedestrian, his/her UM coverage will also apply, either if the other driver has either no insurance or inadequate insurance.
When Does Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage Kick In?
The insurance company that issues a policy with UM coverage pays only if an accident is caused by another driver and only if that driver has no insurance or does not have sufficient insurance to cover the damages. If a driver does not have sufficient insurance, UM/UIM coverage would only apply if the injured party maxes out the at-fault driver's policy limits. Moreover, a special type of release of liability, called a limited release, would need to be signed with the liability carrier, and there are other legal issues that would apply. The limited release would also have to comply with Georgia law and Georgia's Uninsured Motorist Statute.
How And When Must A UM Policy Holder Make a Claim?
In Georgia, a UM policy holder must put his/her UM/UIM insurance carrier on notice as soon as possible after the accident. Failure to do so in a timely manner could void UM coverage. What would constitute untimely notice depends on the insurance policy. There is case law in Georgia that holds that failure to give the carrier notice in as little as 60 days after an accident could void coverage. And, as with all insurance coverage, the policy holder must comply with the insurance company's requests for cooperation.
UM/UIM Coverage Can Be Complicated
Issues concerning UM/UIM coverage can be quite complicated and this article is meant to provide a general overview only. Anyone who has questions regarding either their policy or how it relates to a recent automobile accident should not act on this article alone.
Put Our Law Firm's Over 35 Years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Case
Filing a UM claim can be complicated and requires a careful adherence to the policy. If you have been involved in an accident with an uninsured, underinsured, or hit and run driver, you should contact a lawyer at Montlick & Associates as soon as possible. Our attorneys can examine the facts and circumstances of what happened and advise you on your legal rights as well as what steps are necessary to protect those rights. Hiring a competent car accident attorney can be a critical step to protecting yourself and possibly recovering compensation. The lawyers at Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law can help.
Our law firm has over 35 years of experience representing care accident victims across Georgia and the Southeast. Contact us to schedule your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour-Live Online Chat.
Sources: http://drivinglaws.aaa.com/tag/liability-laws/, http://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2010/title-33/chapter-7/33-7-11
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