Underinsured Motorist Claims

West Plains, MO Car Accident Attorney

Every day, all across this country, negligent drivers with inadequate insurance coverage are responsible for causing serious accidents resulting in catastrophic personal injury and death. All states require a minimal amount of bodily injury liability coverage on every policy sold in that state. In Missouri, every automobile insurance policy must provide a minimum of $25,000 per person in bodily injury liability coverage. In order to maximize their risk of exposure and corporate profits, insurance companies like to write the $25,000 minimal coverage policies, particularly to high risk motorists most likely to be involved in accidents.

As a result, these drivers usually carry the least insurance coverage for the harms they inflict. If you have been injured by an underinsured motorist, a West Plains personal injury attorney from Henry & Williams, P.C., can protect you from large insurance companies who don't want to give you the compensation you deserve.

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Explaining Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Underinsured motorist coverage is optional. This means that you only have that coverage if you pay a premium. While all insurance policies issued in Missouri provide uninsured motorist coverage, only those policies for which a premium is paid will provide underinsured motorist coverage. The purpose of underinsured motorist coverage is to provide you, your family and the passengers of your vehicle with additional bodily injury coverage when the at-fault party causing your accident had insurance, but not enough to cover your injuries or coverage in an amount less than your underinsured motorist coverage limits.

Every automobile policy which has underinsured motorist coverage will contain a definition of an underinsured motor vehicle. Generally, an underinsured motor vehicle is defined in either one of two ways. First, your policy may define an underinsured motor vehicle as one which is insured but its coverage is less than your damages. Secondly, some policies define an underinsured motor vehicle as one which is insured but its limits are less than your underinsured motorist coverage. As to the latter definition, the claim becomes more complicated when the at-fault parties insurance coverage is not less than but equal to your underinsured motorist coverage.

For example, the at-fault party may carry $25,000 in coverage and you may have $25,000 in underinsured motorist coverage. In that instance, you are entitled to your underinsured motorist coverage by operation of statute which makes your coverage excess to that of the negligent party. However, if the at-fault party carries $50,000 in coverage and you also carry $50,000 in underinsured motorist coverage, further investigation is necessary. Sometimes your underinsured motorist coverage will be considered excess and sometimes it will not, depending on an overall reading of the entire contract with the insurance you have purchased. Usually, only a personal injury attorney who handles underinsured motorist claims on a regular basis will be able to make that determination.

What is covered in underinsured motorist policies?

Underinsured motorist coverage is always available to the policy holder or the person whose name appears on the automobile policy. However, the coverage does not end there. Usually, and in most instances, the underinsured motorist coverage extends to family members of the named policyholder as well as to passengers of an automobile which is insured. You do not have to be a policyholder, family member of a policyholder or passenger to be eligible for underinsured motorist benefits. You may also be entitled to underinsured motorist coverage if you were a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcycle rider or passenger, or even a bystander so long as the negligent motorist who caused your injuries was operating an underinsured motor vehicle at the time of your accident.

The underinsured motorist coverage required by Missouri law is for bodily injuries. Bodily injuries include compensation for the obvious losses of past and future medical bills you may incur as a result of the accident, past and future lost earnings as well as your pain and suffering. Most policies do not cover property damage such as the damage to your vehicle, although some underinsured motorist coverage will cover property damage if an added premium is paid for that coverage.

Requirements in Making an Underinsured Motorist Claim

Yes, there are some very important conditions which must be met or your underinsured motorist coverage claim may be denied. Some of those requirements include the following:

  1. If suit is filed against the at-fault party, your policy will normally contain a requirement that copies of the suit papers be promptly submitted to your carrier to put them on notice of that suit. Failure to provide that notice may cost you your coverage.
  2. If you reach a settlement with the at-fault party and their insurance carrier, your policy will almost always require that you obtain prior written consent from your insurance company before concluding that settlement. Failure to obtain that prior written consent may cost you your coverage.
  3. You must exhaust or use up the full amount of the at-fault party's insurance to be eligible for your underinsured motorist coverage. Failure to exhaust that coverage will deprive you of yours. In other words, if the at-fault party carries $50,000 in coverage, you cannot settle for $49,900.
  4. When you settle with the at-fault party's insurance company, you should not sign a full release of all claims, but rather should sign a limited release reserving your underinsured motorist claims. Most law offices handling these claims, will want to include a special paragraph specifically reserving the underinsured motorist claim when signing off on the release of the claims against the at-fault party and their carrier.

Can underinsured motorist coverage be stacked?

In Missouri it is possible in some instances to stack your underinsured motorist coverage. Under the concept of stacking, if you have more than one vehicle with underinsured motorist coverage, you may be entitled to the benefits on each of those vehicles. Usually, however, you will need to be injured in an accident while you were a passenger in a non-owned vehicle in order to stack your underinsured motorist coverage. Stacking of underinsured motorist coverage depends on an interpretation of the policy language and your particular insurance policy and usually an attorney who handles underinsured motorist claims can advise you as to whether or not your policies can be stacked. It would be wise to determine whether or not your underinsured motorist coverage can be stacked before settling your claims particularly if you have sustained serious injuries or have lost a family member and have a wrongful death claim against your insurance company.

Contact a Mountain Grove, MO car accident lawyer to learn more!

If you offer to settle your underinsured motorist claim, leave the offer to settle open for at least 30 days, and the insurance company fails and refuses to pay the claim without just cause or excuse, the court or jury may award you damages not only for your injuries but for attorney's fees, penalties and interest as well. In regard to an underinsured motorist claim, it is important that you secure the services of an attorney with experience handling these claims so that he or she can properly submit your claim with supportive documents such as medical records, medical bills, photographs, tax returns, wage loss verification from your employer, life expectancy tables, etc., so that if your claim is denied you will have a basis to request the court to award attorney fees and penalties against the insurance company for not paying your claim.

Contact a Mountain Grove, MO car accident attorney to learn more!

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