What You Need to Know About Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage in Georgia
Car accidents can be extremely stressful events, particularly when you are suffering from injuries after the accident. The stress continues when you start to receive medical bills for your care and see your income stop while you’re recovering. Typically, the at-fault driver’s insurance will cover your financial losses. But what happens if you are involved in an accident with an uninsured/underinsured motorist in Georgia?
Why is Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage So Important?
All drivers in Georgia are required by state law to maintain minimum auto insurance in the amount of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per occurrence for bodily injury, as well as $25,000 for property damage. Unfortunately, however, not all drivers in Georgia follow the law. In fact, in 2015, twelve percent of drivers in Georgia were uninsured, though recent data suggests rates are thankfully declining.
There are two types of situations in which injured victims may need to claim damages through their own insurance in order to receive compensation for their injuries. The first is when a person is injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a driver who carries no automobile insurance. In the event of a hit-and-run, or where the identity of the defendant is otherwise unknown, a plaintiff may also pursue damages against the "John Doe" driver through uninsured motorist coverage. It is illegal under Georgia law for an insurance carrier to increase your premium or cancel your coverage as a result of a multi-vehicle accident that is not your fault.
The second scenario of a victim pursuing damages against their own policy is when they are injured because of the negligence of underinsured driver, wherein the defendant has auto insurance, but not enough to fully compensate the victim. In such a situation, the plaintiff must exhaust the defendant's liability insurance limits in order to pursue damages against their own insurance. You should never resolve a claim against the defendant's liability carrier without first consulting with an attorney. The reason for this is because in order to subsequently pursue claims against any of your own policies, including those owned by household members of your family or the owner of the vehicle in which you were riding when your accident ocurred, you would need to sign a specific type of document called a limited release of liability. The document must be drafted pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 33-24-41.1 and requires specific language in order to be enforceable. In Georgia, if you do not execute the appropriate release in the liability settlement for policy limits, you will be forever barred from pursuing underinsured motorist coverage.
In order to protect yourself and your family from drivers whose insurance (or lack thereof) are incapable of fully compensating you for your injuries, you can obtain additional coverage through your own auto insurance carrier. This type of coverage is not required in Georgia, but all insurance companies who write Georgia policies are required to offer it. Unlike some other jurisdictions, where both Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist coverage can be purchased separately, in Georgia, they are combined into one and can only be purchased together.
Types of Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
However, when acquiring Georgia Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist ("UM/UIM") coverage, you should know there are two types of coverage that differ in legal application in an underinsured motorist scenario - (1) Reduced (traditional) and (2) Excess (added on). All insurance companies are required to offer you Excess UM/UIM equal to your bodily injury liability limits, but you may, in writing, reject this coverage entirely or choose lower limits and/or Reduced coverage.
However, there are important differences between Reduced and Excess UM/UIM. For example, suppose you have Reduced UM/UIM in the amount for $50,000 per person, and are injured by a driver covered by Georgia statutory minimum $25,000 liability bodily injury coverage. Also, assume for the purposes of the discussion that you sustained a serious injury, and your case is worth $75,000. In theory, you and your attorney would recover the defendant's $25,000, pursuant to a limited release.
However, in a Reduced UM/UIM scenario, you would only be able to recover an additional $25,000 from your own policy, even though you have $50,000 of UM/UIM ($50,000 combined between liability and UM/UIM coverage), unless other insurance coverage exists. This is because the insurance carrier is entitled to deduct, or "reduce" from the amount of coverage available the amount of money the plaintiff is able to receive from the liability carrier.
Alternatively, if you apply the same hypothetical, but instead you are covered by $50,000 Excess UM/UIM, you would still recover the defendant's $25,000, but also in addition to $50,000 ($75,000 combined between liability and UM/UIM coverage). In such a scenario, your UM/UIM coverage is "added on" to the amount of liability coverage available. We at Montlick & Associates recommend that you purchase excess UM/UIM coverage with as high limits as possible for this very reason.
The above information is for informative purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice. Although this article discusses the basics of Georgia law concerning UM/UIM auto insurance coverage, there are many other factors that can come into play concerning the application of the law, such as, by way of example only, the existence of other insurance policies, the insurance carrier's failure to produce proof that a plaintiff and their family or someone else purchased reduced UM/UIM, the plaintiff's residency and whether they live with family members who also have their own auto insurance, whether the plaintiff owned the vehicle they were in when the accident occurred, and many others. Additionally, UM/UIM carriers must receive notice of a claim early on in a person's case, and failure to do so can result in a legally enforceable denial of coverage, resulting in a loss of valuable compensation. Therefore, if you have been injured in any accident caused by someone else's negligence, you should consult one our our attorneys as soon as possible. Do not delay in seeking legal assistance, as you have a limited amount of time to pursue a claim.
Put Our Law Firm's Over 37 Years Of Legal Experience To Work For Your Case!
If you have been injured by any type of accident caused by someone else's negligence, call Montlick & Associates, Attorneys at Law for your free consultation today. Montlick & Associates, Attorneys at Law has been representing those who suffer serious injuries for over 37 years.
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