Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Insurance Basics

As covered in an earlier post, Pennsylvania requires drivers who register their cars in the Commonwealth to purchase minimum liability coverage and medical benefits coverage. The liability coverage is designed to pay the damages of others whose injuries have been caused by the persons insured under the policy. The no fault medical benefits coverage is designed to pay the medical expenses of those insured by the policy. What these mandatory coverages don’t cover however is damages and expenses to the policyholder himself/herself caused by another motorist, other than the first $5,000 of medical expenses. This is where uninsured motorist coverage (UM) and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) come into play. Although $15,000 per person, and $30,000 liability coverage is mandatory in Pennsylvania, that is no guarantee that the motorist injuring you will have such coverage. The motorist who injures you could have simply evaded the law and failed to maintain the mandated coverage. Alternatively, you could be injured by a motorist from New Hampshire or Virginia, who are apparently, at the time of his writing, not required to maintain insurance coverage, or you could be injured in a hit and run accident. Also, there is the possibility that the level of insurance coverage held by the at fault motorist is insufficient to cover your damages. Uninsured motorist coverage is designed to pay your damages if the person who has caused your injuries has no liability coverage whatsoever. Underinsured motorist coverage, on the other hand, is designed to pay your damages to the extent that the coverage of the at fault motorist is insufficient to pay your damages in full.
While persons registering their cars in Pennsylvania are not required to purchase uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, insurance companies offering auto insurance to Pennsylvania motorists are required to make such coverage available for purchase. However, an important aspect of UM and UIM coverage is that such coverage is subject to your tort selection, i.e. if you have selected limited tort and cannot recover noneconomic damages (e.g pain and suffering) because you have not sustained “serious injury”, your UM and UIM coverage will not cover such noneconomic damages. Another issue you should be aware of is that your UM and UIM coverage may be subject to mandatory arbitration, you may contractually give up your right to sue your insurance company for a court determination of the amount your insurance company must pay you pursuant to such coverage. Your policy may require you to submit such a dispute to private arbitration.
Another issue of which you should be aware concerning UM/UIM coverage is that of “stacking”. “Stacking” allows a policyholder to “stack” coverages by adding policy limits together to obtain a higher total policy limit when insuring multiple vehicles. For example, if you have 2 vehicles which are insured for $100,000 each, and the coverages are “stacked”, you will have $200,000 of total coverage available to you if you are in an accident. “Stacking” is the default position but the law allows the policyholder to waive stacking by signing a written form. Waiving of “stacking” would normally be done in order to obtain a lower policy premium.
If you have any questions about UM or UIM coverage, please call me at 814-283-5788 or email me at mel@melvinmcdowell.com.