Understanding your auto insurance policy – Uninsured Motorist Coverage

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Today we’re sharing a guest post from the N.C. Advocates for Justice about the importance of having Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage as part of your auto insurance policy.

You can learn more about the different types of auto insurance coverage and understanding your policy in these articles:

Being involved in a wreck is a bad situation. Being involved in a wreck that is not your fault and where the other driver has no insurance is worse. Although N.C. law requires liability insurance, the reality is many drivers on the road lack liability insurance to pay for harm they may cause. Fortunately, since 2009 every policy of personal auto insurance issued in North Carolina requires coverage for this type of situation. That coverage is called Uninsured Motorist or “UM” coverage. This is not to be confused with Underinsured Motorist or “UIM” coverage, which applies when the at-fault driver has some insurance coverage, but not enough to cover the harm caused.

N.C. law requires that all policies have a minimum of $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident of UM coverage for injury and $25,000 for property damage, with the option to select higher limits. This coverage pays for damage to your car, medical expenses, lost wages and other damages resulting from your injuries. In essence, the UM coverage on your policy steps into the shoes of the uninsured at-fault driver and pays damages that person could be held responsible for under the law, with a few exceptions.

One such exception is punitive damages. Punitive damages involving automobile are most often situations involving drunk driving, racing, or similar plainly dangerous and reckless behavior. Punitive damages are intended to punish the reckless driver for what he did and deter him or her (and others) from repeating that conduct in the future. While the law allows that claim against the reckless driver, your UM coverage would not pay punitive damages even if a jury allows them.

“Hit-and-run” situations also require a particular analysis in North Carolina. In order to have a valid UM claim in North Carolina in a hit-and-run situation, you must prove “contact.”

The “contact” rule does not require the hit-and-run motorist contact your car. As long as the hit-and-run motorist contacts some vehicle or object which contacts your car, then you can be covered under the UM coverage.

Two different scenarios can show how that plays out. Let’s say you are driving to Wednesday night church, and your pastor happens to be traveling behind you in his car. As you enter a curve, an oncoming car is over the center line and heading towards you. If that vehicle hits your car, but doesn’t stop and leaves the scene never to be identified, you have a valid UM claim for any injury. That’s because of the physical contact between the hit-and-run vehicle and your own.

Alternatively, if you swerve to avoid the car and there’s no contact, but you end up going off the road damaging your car or being hurt, there is no UM coverage. This is true even if your pastor would swear under oath that you did nothing wrong and had to swerve or be hit head on. This can leave you with medical expenses that still must be paid. For property damage to be covered under UM, contact along is not enough. A valid UM claim for property damage requires both contact and the identification of the hit-and-run or uninsured driver responsible.

Requiring contact for a valid UM claim is designed to prevent fraud, so a person can’t simply wreck their vehicle on their own and falsely claim another driver caused it. A trend in other states to combat potential fraud, but allow UM coverage, involves allowing a UM claim with no contact if there is an independent witness or other corroborating evidence. To date, North Carolina has not followed that trend and we remain a strict “contact” state.

Facts in specific situations can result in different answers, and this basic description of UM coverage does not cover all scenarios. If you find yourself in an unfortunate situation like the ones described, seek legal advice for your particular situation. And remember, to protect yourself against drivers who lack sufficient insurance you should review your current coverage with your agent and purchase protection such as Uninsured Motorist and Underinsured Motorist coverage in high enough limits to cover you and your family.

If you have been injured in an auto, truck or motorcycle accident, give us at call at (866) 373-1130 or contact us here If you have been involved in an automobile, truck or motorcycle accident that was someone else’s fault, you may be entitled to compensation for car repairs, pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses, permanent impairment, mileage to and from your doctors’ appointments, prescription costs and rental car fees.

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