When most people shop for motor vehicle insurance, they focus almost entirely on which protections to buy rather than on how much to buy. Most people can tell you what type of coverage they bought, buy have no idea as to the amount. Having the right amount of coverage is crucial to protecting yourself in the event that you are injured by an inattentive driver. It can literally mean the difference between making a full financial recovery and bankruptcy.
For decades, members of our firm have spoken to motorcycle clubs, groups, and organizations throughout the country about laws concerning motor vehicle insurance. Below is a list of frequently asked questions concerning motor vehicle insurance laws and how they affect you. If after reading this you still have questions concerning the laws in your state, please do not hesitate to contact me.
1. Why is motor vehicle insurance important?
You should think of your motor vehicle insurance as another kind of protective gear while you are riding. While we at the Motorcycle Law Group do not believe that motorcycling is dangerous, we do recognize that, in the event of an accident, riders have less protection around them and are therefore more susceptible to injury. If you are injured by another motorist, you are entitled to receive compensation for your medical bills, your injuries, and your lost time from work, as well as for pain, suffering, and inconvenience. This compensation will almost always come from the insurance coverage available to the people involved in the accident.
2. If someone injures me, won’t their insurance pay for my injuries?
Yes, but only up to the limits of their policy. Most people shop for motor vehicle insurance by price. They try to buy the cheapest insurance available. Therefore, most people buy the minimum amount of insurance that their state requires. In North Carolina, that is $30,000. In Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia the minimum amount is $25,000. In West Virginia, it’s $20,000. Regardless of how serious your injuries are, the other driver’s insurance will not have to pay you any more than the policy limits. If you are seriously injured in an accident, $20,000 to $30,000 will not be enough to cover your medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, and inconvenience.
3. Can I sue for personal injury?
Yes you can, but that will not change the amount of money that the other person’s insurance company will have to pay you. If you sue and get a verdict of $300,000, the defendant’s company will still not have to pay any more than the policy limits. This is because the insurance company is not paying because it owes you, the insurance company is paying because it owes the defendant protection. The defendant bought protection from the insurance company in case they had a claim brought against them. People often buy the least amount of protection required by the law of their state. Therefore —in most cases— the defendant’s insurance company will only have to pay you the minimum amount required in that state regardless of the seriousness of your injuries or the size of the verdict.
4. Will I be able to recover from the defendant’s personal assets?
The answer to that question is usually no. Most people do not have personal assets that will cover the cost of serious injuries. Assets owned jointly with someone’s spouse —such as a house, land, vehicles, and bank accounts— typically cannot be used to satisfy a judgment. Even if you find yourself in a situation where you can collect from a defendant’s personal assets, the defendant often will have the ability to declare bankruptcy and have your judgment against them discharged.
5. I have full coverage on my motorcycle, so I am covered, right?
Not necessarily. Full coverage means that you purchased all of the major coverages that your insurance company offers. What is more important to you as an injured rider is the amount of coverage that you have. If you have full coverage on your motorcycle, but also have the minimum amount of insurance coverage, you will most likely receive only the minimum limits for your injuries regardless of how serious they are or the amount of the verdict that you receive in court. That is why it is important that you protect yourself with both uninsured motorist (UM) coverage and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage.
6. What is uninsured motorist coverage? What is underinsured motorist coverage? How do they work?
Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage protects you if you are injured by someone who does not have insurance. Your insurance company will pay you up to your policy limits for injuries caused by an uninsured motorist. However, what we see far more often is a driver who does not have enough insurance to cover the injured client. That driver is underinsured, and the client is protected by their underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. If you have $100,000 in UIM coverage, then you have at least $100,000 to compensate you for injuries caused by another motorist. If you have $250,000, then you are covered up to that amount, unless the other party has more insurance than you do. You can buy UIM coverage in most any amount up to one million, depending upon the insurance company and the rules of your state.
7. Is it expensive to buy more UIM insurance?
Insurance rates differ according to your age and driving record, as well as your state, city, and/or county of residence. However, many people are surprised at how little it can cost to increase the coverage available to them. The more UM and UIM coverage that you buy, the less expensive it gets. The best thing to do is shop around and find out how much the additional coverage will cost you. One thing we can promise you is that it will be less expensive than being seriously injured in an accident and not having enough coverage available to you.
8. Does it matter that I have more than one motor vehicle insurance policy?
In most cases you are protected by every policy in your household. This is called stacking policies. While the rules differ from state to state, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia all allow stacking. One caveat is that West Virginia allows an insurance company to prohibit stacking in their policy language, so it is very important that you read your policy. The Motorcycle Law Group is more than happy to look at your policy for you regardless of your state of residence.
9. How do I know if I have enough UM and UIM coverage?
At the Motorcycle Law Group, our rule of thumb is that no rider should have less than a total of $500,000 in coverage. Injuries suffered by motorcyclists often result in expensive medical bills, lengthy time off from work, and a permanent impact on the rider’s overall health.
10. I still have questions about the rules specific to my state and what protection is available to me. Where can I get additional information?
We are happy to answer any questions that you may have. Feel free to call the Motorcycle Law Group at 1-800-321-8968. You may also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, if you are a member of a group, club or organization and would like to have a member of our firm come out and speak about motor vehicle insurance or any other area of law important to motorcyclists, we are happy to do so. There is no charge for speaking with groups or answering your individual questions. We want to make sure that if you are injured by a careless motorist that you have the resources available to protect you and your family.
McGrath, Danielson, Sorrell & Fuller
The Motorcycle Law Group
Matt Danielson is a partner at the Motorcycle Law Group, a personal injury law firm whose attorneys all ride motorcycles and practice in VA, NC, SC, GA and WV. Matt has successfully represented clients in cases from simple property damage to complex multi-million dollar personal injury claims. He is also a lobbyist, adjunct professor and works with motorcycle rights organizations. To learn more about the Motorcycle Law Group, visit MotorcycleLawGroup.com.