Uninsured & Underinsured Motorist Claims
Do I Need Underinsured Motorist Coverage in Georgia?
Personal injury attorney Casey W. Stevens specializes in car accident cases in the State of Georgia. Call today for a complimentary case evaluation.
Georgia law requires all motorists to carry liability insurance to pay for injuries and other damages caused as a result of a driver’s negligence. Unfortunately, some drivers let their insurance coverage lapse, or have coverage in the amount of $25,000 per person for bodily injury, the minimum amount of coverage required under Georgia law. If you are seriously injured in a car accident as a result of another driver’s negligence, $25,000 is often insufficient to cover your medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering damages. In such instances, you can be left without sufficient compensation to cover all of your losses. Too often, however, people fail to realize the importance of carrying uninsured motorist coverage under their auto insurance policy until it is too late. An experience car accident lawyer can make sure clients meet all deadlines for filing suits if necessary and receive full compensation for their injuries and damages from all available resources. Having your own uninsured motorist coverage can protect you if the negligent party is underinsured or uninsured.
Under O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(a)(1), “no automobile liability policy…shall be issued or delivered in this state to the owner of such vehicle…unless it contains an endorsement or provisions undertaking to pay the insured damages for bodily injury…sustained from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle.” Simply put, this means that your own insurance policy will pay your damages for bodily injury if the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured. Every insurance policy issued in the state of Georgia is required to carry uninsured motorist coverage unless such coverage is specifically rejected in writing by the policyholder. O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(a)(3). The policyholder has the option of selecting the amount of uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage, so long as the amount of such coverage is in an amount not less than $25,000 per person. O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(a)(1). Understanding the law and ensuring car accident victims recover the compensation they are entitled to is the job of an experienced personal injury attorney.
“Excess” vs. “Difference in Limits” Uninsured Motorist Insurance Coverage
In the state of Georgia, there are two basic types of uninsured motorist coverage: Excess (also referred to as “add on”) coverage, and difference in limits (also referred to as “offset”) coverage. If a policyholder elects to carry “excess” uninsured motorist coverage, the at-fault party “shall be considered uninsured to the full extent of the limits of the uninsured motorist coverage provided under the insured’s motor vehicle insurance policies.” O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(b)(1)(D)(ii)(I). If a policyholder elects to carry “difference in limits” uninsured motorist coverage, the at-fault party shall be considered uninsured “only for the amount of the difference between the available coverages under the [at-fault party’s] bodily injury liability insurance…and the limits of the uninsured motorist coverage provided under the insured’s motor vehicle insurance policies.” O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(b)(1)(D)(ii)(II).
To illustrate the difference between “excess” and “difference in limits” uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage, let’s assume the following scenario: Three drivers are injured in separate motor vehicle collisions in which the at-fault party has bodily injury liability insurance in the amount of $25,000 per person. The value of each driver’s personal injury claim is $125,000. Driver A has “difference in limits” uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage in the amount of $25,000 per person. Driver B has “excess/add on” uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage in the amount of $25,000 per person. Driver C has “excess/add on” uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage in the amount of $100,000 per person.
Under the above scenario, Driver A would only be able to recover the $25,000 in liability insurance coverage under the at-fault driver’s policy because the difference in the limits between the at-fault party’s liability insurance coverage ($25,000) and Driver A’s uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage ($25,000) is zero. Driver B would be able to recover $50,000 because Driver B’s $25,000 in uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage is added on to the at-fault party’s $25,000 in liability insurance coverage. Driver C would be able to recover $125,000 because Driver C’s $100,000 in uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage is added on to the at-fault party’s $25,000 in liability insurance coverage.
As the above example illustrates, it is advisable to not only carry uninsured motorist coverage, but to opt to purchase such coverage in an amount in excess of the required minimum limits of $25,000. The failure to do so can leave the victim of a serious injury without a remedy in the event the at-fault party is either uninsured or minimally insured. While it is understandable that the cost of a higher insurance premium is obviously a factor in considering how much coverage to carry, our experience in reviewing insurance policies has shown that the cost of uninsured motorist coverage is often only a small percentage of the total auto insurance premium. An experienced personal injury lawyer can ensure you receive all of the compensation available to you from all resources.
Stacking of Uninsured Motorist Coverage in the Case of a Car Accident
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(b)(1)(B), an “insured” for purposes of uninsured motorist coverage includes “the named insured and, while resident of the same household, the spouse of any such named insured and relatives of either, while in a motor vehicle or otherwise; any person who uses, with the express or implied consent of the named insured, the motor vehicle to which the policy applies; a guest in such motor vehicle to which the policy applies; or the personal representatives of any of the above.” In Beard v. Nunes, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that this section of the Uninsured Motorist Statute provides the basis for the stacking of coverage in cases in which the injured party is an “insured” under multiple insurance policies. 269 Ga.App. 214 (2004). Further, the definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” in O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(b)(1)(D) “allows an insured to ‘stack’ his multiple policies of uninsured motorist coverage where the [at fault party] is minimally insured.” State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Hancock, 164 Ga.App. 32 (1982).
To illustrate the practical application of stacking in a real world example, let’s assume the following facts: Archie is seriously injured in a car accident when Barney runs a red light. Barney let his insurance lapse and is completely uninsured at the time of the wreck. Archie has two separate auto policies. Each of Archie’s insurance policies provides $25,000 per person in uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage. At the time of the wreck, Archie was driving George’s car with George’s permission. George has an auto insurance policy that provides uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage in the amount of $50,000 per person. Archie lives with his wife, Edith, and his daughter, Gloria. Edith has her own auto policy that provides uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage in the amount of $100,000 per person. Gloria has an auto insurance policy that provides $250,000 in uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage.
Under this scenario, Archie would be able to recover up to $450,000 in uninsured motorist coverage benefits. As the “named insured” under his own two policies, he would have access to $50,000 ($25,000 x 2 policies). Archie would also be insured under George’s policy that provides $50,000 in uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage since he was driving George’s vehicle with George’s consent. Because Archie is married to Edith and lives with her, he would be covered under Edith’s policy that provides $100,000 per person in uninsured motorist coverage. Finally, Archie would be able to recover under Gloria’s policy that provides $250,000 in uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage because Gloria is a relative who resides in Archie’s household.
The above example underscores the importance of understanding Georgia’s uninsured motorist stacking laws. At the personal injury Law Office of Casey W. Stevens, we frequently encounter scenarios in which we are able to increase the amount of a client’s recovery by asking the right questions, and uncovering alternative sources of insurance coverage in order to ensure that our clients are fully compensated for their injuries.
If you have been in a car accident and need the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer, give us a call. We serve our clients from our Alpharetta, GA office and from our offices in Suwanee, Dawsonville, Woodstock, and Canton. Give us a call today for a complimentary case evaluation.