One of the best parts of practicing law is helping real people recover from a crisis. Unfortunately, one barrier to a positive resolution regularly arises: a lack of adequate insurance. For the most part, this is a preventable problem. While inadequate insurance can be an issue in any type of claim, it is most prevalent in auto accident or personal injury cases. It is for this reason that I tell anyone who will listen to make sure they have underinsured / uninsured motorist coverage (abbreviated UIM/UM).
What is UIM/UM coverage?
A typical UIM/UM policy will cover all damages that an insured person is "legally entitled to recover from an underinsured at-fault driver." This means that if you are injured by an underinsured or uninsured driver, you are protected. With UIM/UM coverage, your insurance company is required to provide benefits to you for the damages that the person who hurt you cannot afford to pay. These benefits may include medical expenses, lost wages, nursing care, substitute services, and non-economic damages.
The legislature's stated purpose for UIM/UM coverage is "to protect innocent victims of motorists of underinsured motor vehicles." However, UIM/UM is an optional coverage in Washington. Insurance companies issuing policies in Washington are required to offer this coverage to their new policyholders under RCW 48.22.030.
While UIM/UM coverage is surprisingly inexpensive, I have found many people decline the coverage--perhaps because they do not realize its importance until a need arises.
Why is it important to have UIM/UM Coverage?
Usually, the need for UIM/UM coverage is most urgent when someone is severely hurt by an irresponsible driver, e.g. drunk driver or someone driving with a suspended license. Some of the most tragic situations I have encountered involved uninsured drivers causing catastrophic injuries to innocent persons--without any UIM/UM coverage.
While you cannot control another person's reckless driving, you can lessen the financial hardship you may experience as a result. Check your policy and make sure you have UIM/UM coverage before you need it.