Personal injury lawyers at Rowen & Klonoski, P.C. often find that victims of automobile accidents who suffer catastrophic life altering injuries have no idea that the value of their legal claim is determined not by the severity of their injury, but by "the luck of the draw" – how much insurance is available. That means not only how much coverage the at-fault driver has, but more importantly, how much uninsured motorist (UM) coverage the injured person has.
Georgia law requires drivers to purchase a minimum of $25,000.00 liability insurance. The Liability insurance that the at-fault driver bought pays for your injuries. Most cars, trucks, and motorcycles on Georgia roads have only the legal minimal limits of $25,000.00. Many automobiles have NO liability insurance, in direct violation of the Georgia law. The "luck of the draw" is that if you are hit and terribly injured by Bill Gates, he has more than enough liability insurance to pay for your personal injuries. If he forgot to pay his premium, he still is financially able to pay any judgment your lawyers obtain against him. Mr. Gates could not file bankruptcy to wipe out your judgment.
The bad news is that seriously injured car wreck victims are rarely hit by an at-fault driver with enough liability insurance or personal assets to fully compensate the victim. Twenty-five thousand dollars is all that is required by Georgia law. The personal injury victim can sue to get a judgment for more, but the at-fault driver may immediately file a bankruptcy petition. Georgia law has no criminal provision for failure to pay for car, truck, or motorcycle-related personal injuries when the at-fault driver has at least minimal insurance.
Quite possibly the most important insurance coverage you can purchase to protect yourself and your family is Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage. Uninsured motorist insurance protects you in car accidents where the at-fault party does not have enough liability coverage to pay the full value of your claim.
Effective January 1, 2009, Georgia insurance companies are required to provide customers the option of selecting either "reduction" uninsured motorist coverage or "excess" uninsured motorist coverage. Under the old, pre-2009 Georgia uninsured motorist law, before a personal injury victim was allowed to collect from their own uninsured or underinsured policy, they were required to first subtract or "set-off" the amount of liability insurance that the at-fault driver carried.
Under the old law and the new law, if you are a Georgia automobile driver that has opted for "reduction" instead of "excess" uninsured motorist coverage, you could still receive no UM coverage if the driver carries the state-mandated minimum insurance levels. For example, if you purchase only $25,000.00 in uninsured motorist coverage and the at-fault driver has $25,000.00 in liability coverage, you have no coverage at all!
Again, if you purchase "reduction" uninsured coverage in the amount of $25,000.00 and you are in a car wreck with an at-fault driver with liability limits of $25,000.00, when you subtract or off-set the at-fault $25,000.00 liability policy from your uninsured coverage limits of $25,000.00 you get ZERO available uninsured coverage. The total amount of available insurance to you will be the at-fault $25,000.00 liability policy only. In these cases your $25,000.00 uninsured limits are useless. You will have paid a premium for something you cannot use.
If you pay a little more and elect "excess" uninsured coverage, you are allowed to "stack" your uninsured policy of $25,000.00 right on top of the at-fault liability policy of $25,000.00. Now you would have available to you both the at-fault $25,000.00 liability policy AND your $25,000.00 "excess" uninsured policy, a total of $50,000.00.
At the very least, you should elect to purchase "excess" uninsured coverage. Better yet, once you purchase liability and uninsured motorist coverage, some companies offer an "umbrella policy" with limits of $1,000,000.00 or more. This umbrella policy will also act as the upper limit of your uninsured motorist policy. Then if you are hit by a Georgia driver with minimal liability limits or no insurance at all, your umbrella policy will "stack" right on top and protect you and all passengers in your car up to the $1,000,000.00 umbrella limits. The personal injury attorneys at Rowen & Klonoski, P.C. recommend that you protect yourself and your family by purchasing a high level of uninsured motorist coverage - then you really have "full coverage".