Many people who have been injured in a car accident that was not their fault are shocked to find out that the person who caused their injuries does not have enough, or any, auto insurance to compensate them for their injuries. In order to legally drive on the roads in Colorado, a person must be insured. Bodily injury insurance is what we all legally must carry in case we cause injuries to others. However, in Colorado, the minimum legal amount for this coverage is $25,000. Very often this is not enough. What can we do when your medical expenses, lost wages, permanent impairment, pain and suffering, loss of your normal life, exceed that limit? It may be surprising, but the best place to seek that recovery is from your own Underinsured motorist coverage.
What is Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
When purchasing auto insurance most people shop based on the “Bodily Injury Coverage”. This is the upper limit that your insurance carrier will pay if you cause someone else’s injuries. Before you sign a contract for insurance In Colorado, however, the insurance companies are required to offer Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage. This coverage works in two ways. When the coverage is used as “uninsured motorist coverage” it will step in if the person who caused your collision has no insurance at all. Second, if the other party has insurance but that coverage is not enough to compensate you fully for your damages then your insurance steps in as “underinsured motorist coverage” to make up the difference.
Am I Required to Have Uninsured/Underinsured Bodily Injury Coverage?
The short answer is, No. You are not required to carry Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage. Insurance companies who sell policies for Colorado drivers are required to offer Uninsured/Underinsured coverage to all policies at the same coverage level as the bodily injury coverage. For example, if you have a $25,000/$50,000 bodily injury coverage your insurance company would have been required to offer the Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage in the $25,000/$50,000 amount. A person buying insurance must sign a rejection form to decline this coverage. If an insurance company can’t provide the signed rejection form upon request, then they have to provide at the level of the bodily injury coverage. A person can also choose, in writing, to a lower amount of coverage for Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage than they carry for bodily injury coverage. For example, if someone carries $100,000/$300,000 in bodily injury coverage they can elect to only carry $50,000/$100,000 in Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage. This election must be in writing otherwise the insurance carrier may be required to recognize the larger limit.
Do I Need an Attorney or Does my Insurance Company Just Pay my Policy Limit?
Unfortunately, even when it is “your” insurance company and coverage, you still need to prove your case. Your insurance company “steps into the shoes” of the person who hit you. They are allowed to raise any defenses, deny the claim, dispute your injuries or damages, and potentially limit or deny payment. There are certain obligations contained in your insurance contract that could prevent your recovery if they are not followed. A knowledgeable Denver car accident attorney will set your claim up for success with the evidence needed to support your claimed injuries and also ensure that your contractual obligations are satisfied in order to protect your ability to recover. Additionally, if your insurance company fails to act reasonably, an attorney can help bring a suit against your insurance company for bad faith insurance practices and potentially recover damages above the value of your original claim. This is called Bad Faith Breach of Contract and is the subject of a future blog post.
Won’t Making a Claim Raise my Insurance Rates?
No. Under Colorado Law Insurance companies cannot and will not raise your insurance rates for accessing your underinsured motorist coverage. This is coverage you have already paid premiums for and are entitled to use without penalty. This is similar to your Medical Payments coverage which will be discussed in a future blog post. However, using your Underinsured motorist coverage for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle collision will not raise your insurance premiums or disqualify you for coverage.
Can I Just Sue the Other Driver for More?
Technically, you can. However, when we are attempting to resolve your injury case, we are most concerned with putting the most recovery in your pocket. Sometimes when you see award numbers on T.V. or websites you see amounts awarded by a jury but very often the other driver can never pay those amounts. Bankruptcy, damage caps, job losses and other factors mean many defendants never pay judgements against them. Additionally, suing the individual often requires going through the entire litigation process all the way through a trial and relying on a favorable verdict. This can take many months to years and the outcome is always uncertain. When we access underinsured motorist coverages, we know that an insurance company will write a check once we have sufficiently proven the case and we take away the time and risk associated with trial. Many times this is the most efficient and safest way to provide a recovery for you and your family.
The Denver personal injury lawyers at Manning Law are highly skilled and experienced in handling accident cases. The attorneys at our law firm can help you navigate the complicated issues that come along with your injury claim, including finding and accessing appropriate Under/Uninsured Motorist Coverage.