Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Liability motor vehicle insurance is required for every vehicle driving on the road in West Virginia. State law requires insurance companies to offer automobile insurance coverage at minimum levels to every owner of automobiles so that theoretically every vehicle being operated on state highways has at least a minimum amount of liability coverage protection.
Approximately one out of every six vehicles traveling on West Virginia roads has no insurance coverage. An even greater percentage of drivers have only minimum liability limits, meaning that in many auto collision cases, the injuries will exceed the available insurance coverage of the at-fault driver.
As the statistics show, there is a high frequency of vehicles being operated without liability insurance coverage. Every responsible driver should purchase enough uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage to protect themselves from all irresponsible drivers.
Minimum Liability Limits: 20/40/10
In West Virginia, the minimum level of liability coverage that can be sold by insurance companies is $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident for personal injuries, and $10,000 for property damage coverage. In the insurance industry, this coverage is referred to as "20/40/10" liability coverage. This minimum liability coverage protects the at-fault driver causing injury to another person from a collision. Of course, the owner may choose greater liability protection by purchasing higher coverages, but vehicle owner must have this minimum coverage.
It is best to have more liability coverage, and for those who have paid for their homes and have other personal assets, it is wise to purchase at least $500,000 in liability coverage protection. A good rule of thumb to use when buying liability insurance is for every dollar of assets owned, that same amount of liability protection should be secured.
Minimum UM Limits: 20/40/10
West Virginia law also mandates that insurance companies must sell, at the same time liability coverage is purchased, uninsured motorist coverage in the same minimal amount as liability coverage. In the insurance industry, this coverage is referred to as "UM" coverage. UM coverage protects you when you are injured by an uninsured driver, meaning the driver has no insurance coverage. As with liability coverage, one may purchase higher UM coverage for greater protection, since West Virginia has a high occurrence of uninsured drivers who cause collisions. Many uninsured drivers are financially unable to afford liability insurance coverage because of their bad driving record - the "high-risk" premiums typically are triple or quadruple the cost of regular liability premium rates.
Optional UIM Coverage
Many auto collisions that cause serious personal injuries will involve an at-fault driver who has insurance coverage, but not enough to pay for all your damages caused by the collision. Thus, the at-fault driver is considered underinsured. The insurance industry refers to underinsured motorist coverage as "UIM" coverage. UIM coverage provides coverage for you when the at-fault driver doesn't have enough liability coverage to pay all damages.
The purchase of UIM coverage is not mandatory, but it must be offered by the insurance company, and you must waive UIM coverage in writing if this coverage is declined. Underinsured motorist coverage may be purchased at any amount equal to or above the liability limits you choose. Few drivers have enough liability coverage, so one should purchase underinsured motorist coverage for their own protection. The more coverage you purchase, the more you are protected.
National Board Certified Trial Attorney Jeffery Robinette, founder and managing attorney of the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC in Morgantown, WV has handled hundreds of motor vehicle, injury, and construction defect claims and is a leading author on insurance claims settlement issues.