When buying or renewing car insurance, do you pay attention to your limits?  Have you updated your policy limits in recent years?  Do you have the kinds of protection that adequately cover your family?

As an experienced personal injury lawyer, I have some observations based on over 38 years of handling people’s accident cases.  On most of my suggestions, your insurance agent is likely to agree.

The types of insurance that protect you and your family most are liability coverage (which protects you if you cause an accident) and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (which protects you, your family, and your passengers when another driver is at fault but is uninsured or does not carry enough insurance to pay all your damages).

Of these coverages, uninsured (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is the least understood and least appreciated.

Uninsured Motorists

Estimates are that as many as 20% of cars on the road are uninsured.  A much greater number, in my opinion as many as two-thirds to three-quarters, are underinsured.  By this I mean they do not have adequate insurance coverage to protect you in the event that another driver causes an accident which injures you, your child or someone with you.

Anyone reading this article should have at least $100,000 of liability coverage, preferably more.  Most insurance companies write policies with what are called split limits meaning that there is one maximum amount for injury or death suffered by one person and a separate maximum amount for all injuries (or deaths) in any one accident, no matter how many people are hurt.  Coverage of $100,000/$300,000 for liability would be the bare minimum I would recommend.  My recommendation is for the protection of you and your passengers, as I’ll explain.

How much uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage (they are sold together) should you carry to protect your family?  You can only carry as much as your liability limits which is why I recommend at least $100,000/$300,000.  Although some insurance companies might encourage you to carry lower UM/UIM limits than your liability limits you should not carry lower UM/UIM limits.  Because injuries can occur in accidents caused by drunk drivers and careless drivers, and injuries can seriously impact not only a working adult but a child or non-income earning spouse, I think it is best to carry limits that provide at least $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident.  And if I were you, I’d carry more coverage than that.

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is cheap protection.  Look at the premiums charged for liability coverage, collision coverage or comprehensive coverage.  Compare those premiums to uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) motorist coverage.  Increasing uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (along with liability coverage) is usually reasonable for the peace of mind you get.

Umbrella Policies

A number of people in our area have umbrella insurance policies.  These are often sold as $1,000,000 (or higher) umbrella policies.  With umbrella policies you may not need to have as much basic auto liability insurance as you were carrying (therefore you might save some money on your auto insurance premiums by buying an umbrella policy).  Then the $1,000,000 umbrella adds $1,000,000 to your auto limits.

Some insurance companies may include uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) motorist coverage as part of your umbrella.  Warning: the trend is not to include UM/UIM coverage in umbrella policies.  One company that historically included uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in its umbrella policies is State Farm.  But State Farm stopped including UM/UIM for new umbrella policies and only “grandfathered in” UM/UIM for renewing umbrella policies.

I represented policyholders of Allstate in one case who were very surprised to learn that their insurer did not provide underinsured motorist coverage under their umbrella policy  If you have an umbrella policy, check with your insurance agent to see if you have uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage up to the umbrella limits.  This is protection that covers you, your family members and passengers in your vehicle when another driver causes serious injury.

Peter Glazer is a Lake Oswego lawyer whose practice emphasizes personal injury, civil trial work and domestic relations cases.  He has represented thousands of accident victims in insurance cases since entering private practice in 1982 (from the Clackamas County District Attorney’s office).  The general information provided in this article does not constitute legal advice and is not specific to any one situation.  If you have a question about insurance that your agent can’t answer, you may wish to talk with a lawyer.  If you have a question about an accident claim or other insurance matter, you should talk to a lawyer for legal advice specific to your situation.

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