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Uninsured Motorist / Underinsured Motorist Coverage in California

What is this coverage?

Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage provides bodily injury coverage if the at fault party does not have coverage.  For example, another vehicle runs a red light and hits you while you are legally proceeding through an intersection.  The red-light runner in this example does not have insurance.  Typically, you’re out of luck – you’ll have to try to recover your damages from the red-light runner personally.  If they don’t have assets or any other type of insurance, it may be impractical or impossible to ever be compensated for this collision.  BUT, if you have uninsured motorist coverage, YOUR insurance steps into the shoes of the red-light runner and acts as though they are the insurer for that vehicle, providing coverage up to whatever limit you have purchased as your uninsured motorist coverage.  What a relief!

Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is similar to uninsured (UM) but acts as an excess coverage for times when the at-fault party does not carry enough coverage to fully compensate you for your injuries.  Using the example above, assume the red-light runner carried the minimum coverage in California ($15,000 per person).  Now, assume that your medical bills alone are $25,000 (or more) for injuries sustained in the collision.  The red-light runner’s insurance coverage is not enough to cover your damages.  Assuming the red-light runner’s insurance agrees and pays out the full value of their policy ($15,000 in this example), you can THEN make a claim with YOUR insurance for underinsured motorist coverage.  Your insurance will step into the shoes of the red-light runner and act as though they are the insurer for that vehicle, providing coverage up to a total of whatever limit you have purchased as your underinsured motorist coverage, taking a credit for funds already received from the at-fault party.

It’s obvious from the examples above why this coverage is important to carry.

Don’t sell yourself short!  Make sure your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage matches the bodily injury coverage you carry.  It doesn’t make sense to carry a $500,000 insurance policy but only carry uninsured/underinsured limits of $25,000 – make your UM/UIM limits match the rest of the policy!  The UM/UIM is for YOU!  This is coverage that you are carrying to cover YOURSELF in the event you are injured by another party.  Do not rely on the other party to carry a reasonable amount of coverage.

UM/UIM coverage costs a fraction of the rest of your policy – it’s relatively inexpensive.  Make sure you carry it at the highest level possible.

In California, insurers MUST offer you this coverage.  If you decline it (which you shouldn’t), such a declination must be in writing.

If you or a loved one have been injured in any type of incident involving a vehicle, contact the experienced attorneys at Heiting & Irwin.  We have been handling vehicle collisions for decades and will fight to get you the best result.  Call us today for a free consultation (951) 682-6400 or visit us online at

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