What is Underinsured Motorist Coverage in South Carolina?
Underinsured motorist coverage is referred to as UIM. UIM compensates you, or other persons insured under your automobile insurance policy, for amounts which you legally may be entitled to collect as damages from an owner or operator of an at-fault underinsured motor vehicle. Stated differently, UIM insurance helps make up the difference when an at-fault motorist had insurance, but the policy limits were too low to compensate you for all of your damages or injuries.
Do I automatically have Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM)? Is it mandatory in South Carolina?
No, your automobile insurance policy does not automatically provide underinsured motorist coverage. Underinsured motorist coverage is optional automobile insurance, typically provided as an endorsement to your auto policy. Under South Carolina law, you have the right to be offered underinsured motorist coverage in limits up to the limits of liability coverage which you will carry under your automobile insurance policy.
What if I am not offered UIM coverage from an insurance company?
South Carolina law requires insurance companies to make a "meaningful offer" of UIM coverage when you apply for a policy. The purpose of requiring automobile insurers to make a meaningful offer of additional UM or UIM coverage is for you to know your options and to make an informed decision as to which amount of coverage will best suit your needs. If the company failed to make a meaningful offer, you can, under certain circumstances, force the insurance company to "reform" the policy to include the optional coverage.
What is considered a "meaningful offer" for UIM coverage?
Under South Carolina law, the insurance company enjoys a presumption that a meaningful offer of UIM coverage has been made when a form offering UIM coverage complies with the requirements set forth in S.C. Section 38-77-350(A) and is signed by the named insured. S.C. Code Ann. ? 38-77-350(A)-(B). Section 38-77-350(A) provides: The director or his designee shall approve a form that automobile insurers shall use in offering optional coverages required to be offered pursuant to law to applicants for automobile insurance policies. This form must be used by insurers for all new applicants. The form, at a minimum, must provide for each optional coverage required to be offered: (1) a brief and concise explanation of the coverage; (2) a list of available limits and the range of premiums for the limits; (3) a space to mark whether the insured chooses to accept or reject the coverage and a space to state the limits of coverage the insured desires; (4) a space for the insured to sign the form that acknowledges that the insured has been offered the optional coverages; (5) the mailing address and telephone number of the insurance department that the applicant may contact if the applicant has questions that the insurance agent is unable to answer. Even in situations where the insurance company is not entitled to the statutory presumption that a meaningful offer of UIM coverage was made, it can still demonstrate that a meaningful offer of UIM coverage was made to the insured under a four-factor test set forth in State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Wannamaker, 291 S.C. 518, 354 S.E.2d 555 (S.C. 1987)("Wannamaker" test). In order for an insurer to make a meaningful offer of UIM coverage under the Wannamaker test, the following must be shown: (1) the insurer's notification process must be commercially reasonable, whether oral or in writing; (2) the insurer must specify the limits of optional coverage and not merely offer additional coverage in general terms; (3) the insurer must intelligibly advise the insured of the nature of the optional coverage; and (4) the insured must be told that optional coverages are available for an additional premium.
Is Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) necessary?
Yes, the Goings Law Firm believes that UIM insurance is absolutely necessary even though UIM insurance is not legally required to operate a motor vehicle in South Carolina. UIM insurance is very important to purchase because many, many drivers in South Carolina are woefully underinsured. Under South Carolina law, drivers are only legally required to have liability bodily injury insurance in the amounts of $25,000 per person and $50,000 maximum per accident (if multiple people are injured). To ensure you receive the compensation you deserve in an accident, you should invest in this additional coverage. The Goings Law Firm has found that the premium amounts for this additional insurance is relatively affordable.
How does Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) work?
The real question is "How does Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) protect me for injuries sustained in a car accident?" The answer is simple. In most car accidents, the need for UIM coverage is present due to the significant nature of injuries that can be sustained. Many South Carolina drivers only maintain minimum limits automobile insurance coverage. This provide benefits of only $25,000 per person. Often times the medical expenses alone to treat the injuries will far exceed the minimum limit amount. Underinsured motorist coverage allows you to turn to your own insurance for compensation for damages and injuries that you sustain in excess of the at-fault's liability coverage. For example, what if you incur over $75,000 in total injuries due to a careless driver but that driver only has only $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage? Let's hope that you have underinsured motorist coverage of at least $50,000, because you will need it. To ensure you receive the compensation you deserve in an accident, you should invest in this additional coverage.
What is "stacking" of Underinsurance Motorist Coverage?
In South Carolina, stacking is defined "as the insured's recovery of damages under more than one policy until all of his damages are satisfied or the limits of all available policies are met." Giles v. Whitaker, 297 S.C. 267, 376 S.E.2d 278 (S.C. 1989). "Stacking refers to an insured's recovery of damages under more than one insurance policy in succession until all of his damages are satisfied or until the total limits of all policies have been exhausted." State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Moorer, 330 S.C. 46, 60, 496 S.E.2d 875, 883 (S.C. Ct. App. 1998). So how can this be? The law in South Carolina states that UIM coverage is "personal and portable." This means that UIM coverage extends over individuals that are covered, rather than simply applying over the insured person only in the insured vehicle.
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