October 5, 2023 | Article by Matt Clark

California law does not require you to carry uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage—so, legally, you don’t need either one.

However, UM/UIM is an important and commonsense coverage to carry.

California law does require insurance companies to offer uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage; if you don’t want it, you must reject the coverage in writing. The reason? According to the Insurance Research Council, one in eight California drivers don’t have liability insurance—and that’s exactly what UM/UIM coverage protects you from.

How Does Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage Work?

Uninsured motorist coverage applies when you’re in an accident caused by a driver who does not have liability insurance.

Suppose an uninsured driver runs a red light and hits your car, injuring you and totaling your vehicle. Because the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance, no coverage is available to replace your car or pay for your medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering. However, if you have UM coverage, you can file a claim against it for all these categories of compensation.

Underinsured motorist coverage applies when you’re in an accident caused by a driver who has insufficient liability insurance.

California law mandates that all drivers carry minimum liability insurance coverage in the following amounts:

  • $15,000 per person for bodily injury
  • $30,000 per accident for bodily injury
  • $5,000 per accident for property damage

These amounts are typically listed as $15,000/$30,000/$5,000.

Suppose a driver with state minimum liability coverage runs a red light and hits your car—just as in the previous example. You can collect a maximum of $15,000 toward your medical expenses and lost wages. In Kern County, the base price of an ambulance ride averages $3,070—and with fuel and other per-mile surcharges, the cost can climb quickly from there. If you have substantial injuries, $15,000 is likely to run short. The same is true for the maximum of $5,000 available for replacing your car. However, if you have UIM coverage of $50,000/$100,000/$30,000, your policy kicks in when costs exceed the at-fault driver’s liability limits and pays up to your coverage limits.

Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage will also protect you in the following situations:

  • You’re in a hit-and-run accident caused by another driver.
  • An uninsured or underinsured driver hits you when you’re walking, jogging, or biking.
  • You’re injured while riding with a driver who’s uninsured or underinsured.

Do I Need Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage If I Have Health Insurance?

If you’re injured in a car accident and the at-fault party is an uninsured or underinsured driver, your health insurance coverage will most likely help pay for your medical bills. However, it’s a good idea to check your individual policy to be sure.

But there’s more to think about:

  • If your health insurance policy has a high deductible—the amount you pay before your policy starts paying—you may have significant out-of-pocket expenses before your medical bills are paid.
  • Health insurance doesn’t provide anything for lost wages if your injuries keep you from working. It also doesn’t provide anything for the pain and suffering you endure as a result of your injuries.

Do I Need Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage If I Have Collision and Comprehensive?

Comprehensive coverage pays for repairs or to replace your car if it’s damaged by a falling object, a deer running across the road, a fire, a flood, or if someone breaks into or steals it. So, comprehensive doesn’t apply to an accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver.

Collision coverage pays for repairs or to replace your car if it’s damaged in a collision with an object or another vehicle, no matter who’s at fault. You could opt to use your collision coverage to take care of car repairs caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver.

However, keep the following things in mind:

  • Collision coverage typically comes with a deductible. For example, if your deductible is $1,000, your coverage kicks in only after you pay $1,000 out of pocket.
  • Collision coverage doesn’t pay for medical expenses for you or your passengers.

How Much Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage Do I Need?

With most insurance companies, you can request a UM/UIM property damage limit close to the value of your vehicle. A good rule of thumb for UM/UIM bodily injury coverage is to match it to your own bodily injury liability limits. For example, suppose you have bodily injury liability limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. You can select the same level of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Experienced Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Attorneys

At Chain | Cohn | Clark, we’d rather help prevent car accidents than deal with the aftermath. However, if you were involved in an accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver, our experienced Bakersfield personal injury lawyers can help you secure all the compensation you’re entitled to.

Uninsured/underinsured motorist claims often involve the interaction between multiple insurance policies or other complications that make them difficult to handle on your own. For a free, no-obligation review of your UM/UIM claim, contact us today.