Uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage involves some of the more complex auto insurance issues.  States usually require that every policy have at least some UM coverage, and they often strictly regulates the terms.  If a policy does not comply with the terms, those terms required by state law apply instead.   Below, you can find Virginia’s basics as to (1) what UM coverage pays for; (2) who is an insured; (3) what is an insured vehicle; (4) when does uninsured motorist coverage apply; and (5) what are the policy limits?



What does UM coverage pay for?


UM coverage pays when an owner or operator of an uninsured vehicle causes bodily injury to an insured caused by an accident involving the use of an auto.  When that happens, it pays for both harm to people and to property.



Who is an insured?


This can be complicated in Virginia, as courts have created two classes of insureds:  first and second.  First class insureds include the named insureds listed in the declarations (click here to learn what “declarations” are) and any relatives of a named insured who are in the same household. 


First class insureds get better coverage.  UM policies pay them whenever they are hurt in a motor vehicle accident.  It doesn’t matter if a first class insured is in a car or not. For example, if you are a first class insured under a policy, and someone hits you while you are crossing the street, UM coverage should apply.  Indeed, if you are in a shop and a car smashes through the storefront window, injuring you, your UM coverage should apply.


Second class insureds are those who are occupying a car insured by your policy, but who are not relatives who share your household.  By definition, your UM coverage applies to them only when they are occupying your car listed as insured under your policy.



What is an uninsured vehicle?


The following all qualify as uninsured vehicles in Virginia.  If you are hurt by such a car in an accident, UM coverage may apply:  (1) cars without any liability insurance at all; (2) cars with less than $25,000 in liability insurance; (3) cars when the liability carrier denies coverage for any reason, whether or not valid; (4) unidentified autos (such as when a hit-and-run happens); and (5) cars driven by people who cannot be sued (such as police officers who are not grossly negligent).


Importantly, underinsured vehicles are also uninsured.



When is a vehicle underinsured?


Look at every UM policy that may apply to you if you are hurt in an auto accident.  That includes policies (1) where you are a named insured; (2) for any relatives with whom you share a household; and (3) attached to any vehicle in which you injured.


Add up the limits available under all such policies.  Now add up the limits available under any liability insurance that may apply to the accident (from the other driver or their employer, for example).  Subtract the total liability limits from the total UM limits.  If it is a positive number, that is how much you are underinsured.  Your UM carriers may be responsible for up to that amount.


You can “stack” policies the same way when the vehicle that hits you is completely uninsured, also.


Stacking can raise complicated issues as to in what order the UM carriers must pay.  And UM carriers can get in snits with each other as to that order, slowing down your recovery.  If you have more than one UM carrier who might owe you, you probably should seek a lawyer’s help.



What are the limits for each policy?


Policy limits are found on the declarations.  In Virginia, the UM limits for any policy must equal the liability limits, unless a named insured rejects those limits when a policy first issues.  As a practical matter, you are smarter to have UM limits that match.  You probably do not want to reject those higher limits for your own insurance.  If higher limits are properly rejected, a UM policy in Virginia must provide $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident in coverage.


If you fall under someone else’s policy in connection with an accident, make sure the UM limits on the declarations match the liability limits.  If not, ask for evidence that the named insured properly rejected higher limits.  You probably will want a lawyer to help you with this.  (Click here to learn more about policy limits.)