Auto Insurer: A Primer
Every state has an insurance code that tells the insurance companies how much and what kind of insurance coverage they must provide for motorists. Oregon requires every motorist carry at least $25,000.00 in liability coverage. Liability coverage is the coverage available if a motorist causes another injury or damage. This is often referred to as the "policy limits." Oregon requires other coverages, but for our purposes, we will focus on what is called "uninsured motorist" or "underinsured motorist" coverage.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
"Uninsured motorist" and "underinsured motorist" reefers to the same coverage on your Oregon auto insurance policy. Uninsured motorist coverage provides insurance for someone injured by an uninsured motorist. This same coverage applies when you are injured by another driver that has insurance, but not enough to cover your injuries. Think of this as insurance against the uninsured or the underinsured.
In this kind of claim, your insurer is jumping into the shoes of the insurer for the other driver to compensate you for the same losses you can claim against the at fault driver had they been covered, or at least covered enough to compensate you for all your losses.
How Much Do You Have?
Your underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage is the same as your liability coverage. Liability coverage is the amount of coverage you have for your liability to other drivers. In Oregon, current law only requires liability coverage of $25,000.00. If you do not know how much coverage you have, you should check with your company, especially with uninsured motorist coverage.
What You Can Do
You can check your insurance policy to make sure you have enough uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Every insurance policy has a declarations page that discloses the liability limits on each coverage. If you cannot locate your declarations page, contact your insurance agent or company to increase your coverage.
Why is Uninsured Motorist Coverage So Important?
In short, it may be your only option.
We reviewed Oregon DMV reporting on auto collisions a few years ago, and doing some rough math, figured that about 25% of drivers involved in Oregon collisions are not insured. In this scenario, our client's only source of recovery is the uninsured motorist coverage. If you carry the minimal required coverage of $25,000.00, that is the most you can recover, regardless of your medical expenses and lost income.
Even in cases where the other driver is insured, the prospect of recovering additional compensation directly from the at fault driver is almost never an option. The cost of getting a claim to a judgment can be prohibitive, and even with a successful outcome, many at fault drivers are financially unable to satisfy a judgment, and may explore bankruptcy protection to avoid financial responsibility.
How Claims Work
If the at fault driver is not insured, then your insurance company assigns an adjuster. Oregon law requires that you attempt to resolve the claim directly with the adjuster, although you can have an attorney involved to help with negotiation. If you and your insurer are unable to agree on the amount of compensation, you have two options: arbitration or trial.
The first is to file a lawsuit directly against the insurer in court. In some cases, this may be an advantage because the insurer may not follow rules that allow it to avoid paying attorney fees if you prevail in court. However, litigation in court is generally more expensive because the evidence code requires live medical expert testimony, which is almost always required an injury case.
The other option is to seek a binding arbitration. An arbitration it is like a trial, but less formal. The parties will agree on a panel of arbitrators, usually experienced attorneys or Senior Status Judges to act as arbitrators. The arbitrators review documentary evidence, listen to the testimony, and then make a decision. The arbitration is "binding." This means that whatever the arbitrators decide is the final word on the case, and not appealable.
Issues in Arbitration or Trial
When the case goes to litigation, whether arbitration or trial, the issues are limited to whether the other driver was at fault, the injuries caused, and the extent of damages you are entitled to recover. The amount of coverage you have for underinsured or uninsured motorist claims caps your recovery. Stated another way, you may have serious injuries requiring extensive medical treatment and caused significant disability. The harm you suffered may far exceed the available policy limits. No matter the extent of your losses, you can recover nothing beyond the policy limits of your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. When this is obvious, the claim will usually settle without the need for arbitration or trial.
The Next Step
In some cases, even when we recover the maximum coverage from all available insurance policies, there may not be enough coverage to compensate our client. In these cases, our effort turns to negotiating with medical providers and health plans.
If you have any questions about this or any other issue regarding an auto injury claim, contact us, or give us a call at 503-325-8600. We answer these questions all the time, and are happy to talk with you.