Understanding Uninsured & Underinsured Motorist Coverage in California

You buy car insurance to protect yourself against the dangers you encounter on the road. When something or someone hurts you or damages your vehicle, your insurance steps in and covers your losses up to the coverage limits you have selected.

The aftermath of a car accident is not the time to discover the limits of your coverage. Without sufficient insurance coverage, your claim could be denied, and you would be responsible for covering the losses in some other way. This is the unfortunate situation some California drivers confront if they do not have uninsured/underinsured coverage.

Defining Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists

The law requires every California driver to have an auto insurance policy in force if they drive a vehicle in the state. At a minimum, your policy must pay up to $15,000 in the event you injure or kill one person and up to $30,000 if you hurt or kill multiple individuals. Your policy must pay at least $5,000 in the event of property damage.

If another driver causes a wreck that injures you, their insurance policy will pay for your damages. If their policy’s limits are not enough to cover your injuries, then you can seek additional damages by filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

When a motorist does not have any liability insurance whatsoever, that motorist is considered uninsured. In the event of a crash, an uninsured driver has no policy against which you can seek compensation. If a motorist does have a policy but the coverage is below the state’s minimum requirements, then that driver is considered underinsured.

The Scope of the Uninsured Motorist Problem

The Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that as many as 14% of drivers in 2022 were uninsured. Five years earlier, in 2017, only 11% of drivers lacked auto liability coverage. The five states with the greatest percentage of uninsured drivers in 2022 were:

  • District of Columbia: 25.2%
  • New Mexico: 24.9%
  • Mississippi: 22.2%
  • Tennessee: 20.9%
  • Michigan: 19.6%

The states with the lowest percentage of uninsured drivers were:

  • New Hampshire: 7.8%
  • Utah: 7.3%
  • Idaho: 6.2%
  • Maine: 6.2%
  • Wyoming: 5.9%

Where does California fall? According to the III’s statistics, approximately 17% of California motorists were uninsured in 2022. That means nearly one out of every five drivers did not have any liability insurance at all. 

It bears emphasizing that the III’s statistics only measure uninsured motorists. Those numbers do not include underinsured motorists.

California Insurers Are Not Required to Cover Uninsured and Underinsured Accidents

You might think that if the at-fault driver’s insurance coverage is insufficient to cover your losses, your insurer would step up and pay. However, the law does not require California auto insurers to do this unless you have purchased uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) coverage.

Without UM/UIM coverage you have two options if you are involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist. You can bring a lawsuit against the driver personally and attempt to recover damages from them. 

However, if the driver does not have adequate insurance coverage, there is a good chance they do not have enough financial resources to pay for your expenses. In that case, you would have to cover those out of your own pocket.

Purchasing UM/UIM Coverage

If you want to be covered in the event you are involved in a wreck caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist, you must purchase additional coverage. When you initially purchase your policy, your insurer must offer UM/UIM coverage to you and explain your options. 

If you decline coverage, your insurer must give you a waiver to sign indicating that you were offered UM/UIM coverage but decided against it.

You can always purchase UM/UIM coverage, even if you initially declined it. If you do, you should purchase as much coverage as possible since this policy will be your primary source of compensation if you are hurt by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. This compensation is available to you regardless of the vehicle you are in when you are hurt.

For example, suppose that you are riding your bicycle when an uninsured driver hits you and injures you. If you have UM/UIM coverage, that policy would pay for your injuries even though you were on a bicycle and not in a car.

UM/UIM Coverage Is a Good Choice in California

In light of the risks of uninsured and underinsured motorist accidents, UM/UIM coverage is an effective way to protect yourself against significant losses in an accident. While you may be unable to prevent an uninsured or underinsured motorist from crashing into you, a UM/UIM policy will ensure that you are not left without financial resources in the aftermath of such a crash.

Since 1992, our personal injury attorneys at the Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, APC. have been fighting for the people of San Diego. Now, when those injured in automobile accidents – including cartruck, and motorcycle accidents – need financial help, or for the families that need to know that the loss of a loved one could have been prevented, there is a personal injury law firm in San Diego that is on their side. If you or a family member has been injured, call the lawyers at Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, APC. There’s never been a better time than right now to speak to a personal injury attorney—FREE of charge. Call us at 858-551-2090 or request a free consultation online today!