LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Scott Carness | Oct 7, 2010

Understanding Automobile Uninsured Motorist Protection in Washington State

Underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage is commonly referred to as UIM. Generally, UIM coverage pays for losses caused by a driver without insurance or with too little insurance. Washington state law requires your insurer to offer UIM insurance when you purchase auto liability coverage insurance. If you choose not to purchase UIM coverage, you must sign a waiver refusing the coverage.

In 1968, insurers were required by State law to offer minimum uninsured motorist coverage (UM) unless specifically rejected by the insured. Later, in 1980, the statute was revised to require the offering of underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). This new coverage, underinsured motorist coverage, provided additional coverage for persons injured by someone with too little insurance to cover their losses. In addition, the amendment to the statute also provided that UIM coverage had to be in an amount equal to the liability coverage purchased by the insured. Any lower limit or rejection of UIM coverage was required to be in writing.

Here's how UIM coverage works: John is injured in a collision and suffers $100,000 in losses. Bill, who is at fault, has only minimum liability limits of $25,000. Bill's insurance carrier pays Bill's liability limit of $25,000 to John. Bill has no other assets to compensate John for his injuries. Luckily, John bought UIM coverage with $100,000 limits. John now turns to his own insurance company to make up the difference between the $25,000.00 dollars received from Bill's insurance company and the $100,000 in losses he suffered. Without UIM coverage, John would not be fully compensated for his losses.

It is very important to read the definitions and exclusions set forth under the UIM portion of your policy. Typically, motorcycles are not covered whether you are the driver or passenger. If you have a motorcycle, read your policy carefully and check with your agent to find out if you have UIM coverage. Generally, there are also geographical restrictions to coverage which apply to both UIM and liability coverage. Once again, read your policy.

If you are in a collision with a hit and run driver, or are forced off the road by another car that leaves the scene, you must notify the police immediately to preserve your right to bring a UIM claim.

It would take volumes to discuss the many court decisions interpreting the situations under which UIM coverage may apply. Two things are vitally important. First, don't assume that another driver will have enough coverage to compensate you for losses should you be injured. There are many drivers who have little or no insurance at all. Second, carry UIM coverage in the same amount as your liability coverage. If you have 100/300 liability limits, then your UIM limit should be the same. Do not reject or lower UIM coverage for an old car or truck, or for any other reason. If you have to choose between collision / comprehensive and UIM, then protect yourself first and buy UIM coverage.

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