Dealing With Underinsured Motorists

As Des Moines car accident lawyers we often encounter situations in which the at-fault driver has insurance coverage but the coverage is insufficient to fairly compensate our client for the client’s injuries and damages. Iowa’s motor vehicle responsibility law doesn’t require drivers to carry much insurance coverage – just $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident. Even a minor car accident with no follow-up surgery can quickly lead to a claim in excess of $20,000. So what can you do if the other driver’s insurance is inadequate to fully cover your Des Moines personal injury law claim?

One option that might be available is to look to the driver’s money and property for extra recovery dollars. You aren’t limited to just the at-fault driver’s insurance coverage. You can also insist that the other driver provide compensation beyond the insurance coverage by giving you personal money or property. Of course, that option only works if the other driver has money or assets to add to the settlement pot.

Another possibility is to consider other possible defendants who may be partly responsible for the accident and your injuries. Is there possibly a second at-fault driver? Did a city or county fail to maintain the road or improperly design the road or its traffic signals? Perhaps, as we sometimes see as Des Moines dog bite lawyers, a dog was roaming around at large and contributed to an accident that may create liability against the dog’s owner.

Notwithstanding those two options, the most common source of additional money when you’re injured by a driver with inadequate insurance coverage is your own underinsured motorist coverage through your car insurance company. I’ve discussed the details of underinsured motorist coverage in an earlier blog entry. There are also time limits for filing such claims, which I warned you about here.

Underinsured motorist claims can be a minefield for the unwary. Not only do you have to read and comply with your insurance policy/contract regarding claim procedures and time limits, but then you possibly have to fight with your own insurance company over whether you’re legally entitled to recover damages from the accident and, if so, how much. The “legally entitled to recover” question doesn’t come up to often in underinsured motorist coverage cases, but the amount you’re entitled to recover is a common battleground and an area where the assistance of a Des Moines personal injury lawyer can be very helpful. Your insurance company essentially takes the place of the other driver in arguing with you about the amount of money that’ll be fair compensation for you.

One aspect of an underinsured motorist claim that you really have to be careful about is your policy’s “consent to settle” clause.  Underinsured motorist policies require you to request and obtain your insurance company’s approval before you settle with the other driver. That sometimes involves your insurance company checking to see whether the at-fault driver has any money or assets that could be added to that driver’s settlement beyond the driver’s insurance coverage. Failure to obtain your insurance company’s consent to settle before settling with the at-fault driver may forfeit your rights to underinsured motorist coverage under your policy.

Underinsured motorist insurance claims are complicated matters that blend insurance law, contract law, and personal injury law in a unique way. To fully determine your legal rights you have to analyze your insurance policy, state statutory law, and state court law and apply all of that to the circumstances of your accident. That is not something that you should not undertake without an attorney. Please contact us if you need the assistance of a Des Moines insurance lawyer.

Harley Erbe