Does Your Car Insurance Cover Your Accident Claim?

By Peter DePaolis

While there may be a stray few who use their auto policy as a good bedtime read, most of us do not study our automobile insurance policies until we are or someone we love is involved in a car crash. Suddenly, reading the policy and, more importantly, understanding your coverage becomes crucial for you and your family.

cars sitting on the highway

So, how do you know if you have enough insurance coverage after an accident happens? Here are the top ten auto insurance questions answered by our accident lawyers that may help shed some light on what you need to know about your policy coverage.

Understanding Your Car Insurance Coverage

1. Are all drivers required to have auto insurance?

In DC – Yes, but only to a limited amount.

2. What is “liability coverage”?

This is protection when you cause an accident and someone files a claim against you.

3. What if the claim against me is bigger than my liability coverage?

You are likely to be responsible for the damages you cause over the limits of your coverage. Many policies provide very little coverage, frequently as low as $20,000 or $25,000.

4. What is uninsured motorist coverage?

Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is designed to pay for your damages if another driver injures you, but that other driver does not have any insurance. Uninsured motorist coverage covers you, your household family members and any minor children who live at home or are away at college. This coverage extends to you, your family and your dependents whenever they use a public roadway as a driver, passenger, pedestrian, bicyclist or motorcyclist. UM also provides for anyone who is hurt by an uninsured motorist while they are riding in your vehicle.

A major benefit to having uninsured motorist coverage is that you can receive compensation for damages, injuries and lost wages if you are hit by a motorist who refuses to stop and exchange information with you (sometimes called a “hit and run”).

5. What is underinsured motorist coverage?

Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage, which is usually in the same amount as uninsured motorist coverage, is designed to protect you when you are injured by someone who has some insurance but not enough to pay the full value of your claim.

6. How do I know how much uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage I have?

Your policy will specify the amount of coverage on the Declaration page. It is usually, but not always, the same dollar amount as your liability coverage.

7. How does uninsured coverage work?

If you are injured by an uninsured driver, then you must file a claim against your own auto policy.

However, if you have only $20/$25,000 in uninsured motorist coverage, you will only receive the limits of your policy no matter how seriously you are injured. This means that in cases of death or serious injury caused by an uninsured driver, the money available to compensate the victim may be very limited.

8. How does underinsured coverage work?

If you are hurt by a driver with a very limited amount of coverage, and your claim is worth more than the other driver’s coverage, you can make a claim against your own underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. This is only possible if your coverage is greater than the other driver’s coverage.

For instance, if the at-fault driver has $20,000 in coverage and you have $50,000 in UIM coverage, you have access to $20,000 from the other driver’s policy and $30,000 from your own coverage ($50,000 minus $20,000 = $30,000 of underinsured motorist coverage). Purchasing sufficient UIM coverage is the most efficient way of protecting yourself and your family.

9. What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, and how does it work?

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance is a car insurance feature that pays for medical expenses and lost wages arising from injuries sustained in a car accident regardless of who was at fault.

District of Columbia law on PIP benefits is very different because the injured person must elect to either receive PIP benefits or bring a lawsuit against the at-fault driver—not both. If you are injured and elect to receive PIP benefits, you cannot bring a lawsuit against the at-fault driver unless the injury directly results in substantial permanent injury, or if the medical expenses or lost wages exceed the amount of PIP benefits available. Since the decision to elect PIP benefits or to pursue a lawsuit involves a variety of factors, you should first consult with an experienced car accident attorney in Washington, D.C. before making an election.

10. Do liability umbrella policies provide UIM coverage?

In most cases, these policies do not provide uninsured or underinsured coverage.

What to Do If an Uninsured Driver Hurts You

As you can quickly see, it is extremely important that you have adequate coverage to protect you and your family in the event of a car accident. The firm of Koonz, McKenney, Johnson & DePaolis L.L.P. has been fighting on behalf of injury victims and their families for over 30 years. Many of our DC traffic accident lawyers have been honored with numerous legal distinctions, such as five of our personal injury attorneys being listed in Best Lawyers in America© as well as more attorneys than another other DC personal injury law firm selected as “Top Lawyers” by Washingtonian Magazine.

Contact a Washington DC Accident Injury Law Firm Today!

If an uninsured, underinsured or negligent motorist injured you or a family member, you will need a lawyer with knowledge and experience upholding the law on your side to get the damages needed to pay for your injuries, medical costs and emotional pain. One of our Washington DC traffic accident injury attorneys who handle car accidents will be happy to review your policy with you, at no charge or financial risk, to help you understand your coverage. Call us as soon as possible if you have been in an accident. We can begin guiding you through this difficult time immediately.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.