Alabama law states that Uninsured Motorist coverage or UM must be provided on any auto liability policy delivered in the state unless the named insured specifically rejects this coverage. Ala. Code § 32-7-23. We at Carey & Hamner have found over the years of handling auto accident injuries that many people don’t know what UM is or why it is important. In our opinion, this is one of the most important coverages you should have on your auto policy.
Uninsured motorist coverage in Alabama protects the person, not the vehicle. It provides coverage for those on the policy as well as resident relatives of the household of the insured party. It is true that Alabama law requires all motorists to carry liability coverage, but despite this mandate, we are still seeing that a large portion of those in wrecks carry no insurance coverage at all. Uninsured motorist provides coverage for anything you could legally collect from the uninsured driver. This coverage is in addition to coverage that an insured motorist may have if the driver is under-insured. For example, uninsured motorist protection can allow an injured party to recover under the following situations:
• You are injured in a wreck caused by someone who had no insurance.
• You are seriously injured in a wreck caused by someone with insurance, but the coverage is not enough to cover all your damages. In this instance, your uninsured motorist coverage acts as under-insured motorist coverage, and your coverage can tack on above the other driver’s coverage.
• You are injured as a pedestrian by the negligence of a driver who is either uninsured or underinsured.
Let’s take a brief look at each of these situations. In the first example, we are discussing a wreck caused by someone with no insurance. As mentioned earlier, this happens frequently, despite liability coverage being mandated by Alabama Law. Ala. Code § 32-7A-4(a) states in part, “No person shall operate, register, or maintain registration of, and no owner shall permit another person to operate, register, or maintain registration of, a motor vehicle designed to be used on a public highway unless the motor vehicle is covered by a liability insurance policy . . .” The required coverage must provide limits of at least $25,000.00 per person injured, and a minimum of at least $50,000.00 total per accident. Failure to provide this coverage subjects the driver to fines and possibly a suspension of their driver’s license until they pay the injured party’s damages. This suspension will occur if the injured party completes and files a form SR-31 with the Department of Public Safety. (the form is available on line at https://www.alea.gov/Documents/Forms/SR-31_CLAIM_FORM.pdf)
Despite this mandate to provide liability coverage, we frequently speak to injured parties who are hit by people with no insurance. In fact, not long ago, we at Carey & Hamner spoke to some people who were involved in a four-vehicle pile-up in which none of the four vehicles had any coverage! Had the injured parties had uninsured motorist coverage, they would have been able to fully recover for all of their personal injury damages as if the other driver was fully insured. This coverage extends to all aspects of an injury claim, including, but not limited to medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, punitive damages and other damages that could be collected from the party who caused the wreck.
A disturbing trend we have seen over the past few years is insurance companies who sell policies that reject uninsured motorist coverage without fully explaining the consequences of such a rejection. We frequently see clients who have rejected coverage without understanding what they were doing. They tell us the insurance agent tells them to “sign here” and they sign without reading or understanding what they are doing. They thought they were getting lower rates when in fact, they weren’t getting the full coverage they thought they were purchasing.
Another area where UM coverage is important is the under-insured motorist situation. To illustrate this situation, let’s assume that our injured party has a claim that is clearly worth $100,000.00. In our example, the at fault party carried minimum coverage of $25,000.00, but our injured party had three vehicles in her household that carried $25,000.00 each in uninsured motorist coverage. In this instance, our injured party would collect $25,000.00 from the at fault party and the remaining $75,000.00 from her own carrier. By carrying uninsured motorist coverage, our client was able to be fully compensated for her injuries. If you are in someone else’s car and are involved in a collision due to the negligence of another driver’s vehicle, you may be able to collect first from the at fault party, next from any uninsured motorist coverage on the vehicle you were in, and lastly, by your own coverage.
Another instance we have seen more of in recent years is where you have really bad conduct, such as where a drunk driver caused the wreck. Alabama law allows recovery of punitive damages in such an instance to punish the driver for his bad or wanton conduct. Some liability companies have started excluding coverage for punitive damages. In such an instance, you can still recover your punitive damages from your own uninsured motorist carrier, who is prohibited from excluding such coverage.
We have also had a number of cases over the years in which a person is injured by being hit by a car as a pedestrian or riding a bicycle. As long as the injury was the result of the negligence of a driver of a motor vehicle, your uninsured motorist coverage will provide protection, even though you weren’t inside a car.
Uninsured motorist coverage allows you to protect yourself in the event of an auto accident. If you have been injured in a wreck caused by an uninsured motorist, you may still be able to recover. Call the attorneys at Carey & Hamner, P. C. for a free, no cost consultation at 334-673-1800, or toll free at 1-866-883-1800. You can also reach us by email at [email protected] or [email protected]