Full coverage auto insurance might not be enough

By J. Richards McRae III

When people come to see me after a car wreck, one of the first things I ask is to see their auto insurance declarations page. Your declarations page is the document that summarizes the types and amounts of coverage provided under your auto insurance policy. It is a document that few people pay much attention to until they have been in a car accident.

Unfortunately, if the first time you have bothered to review your declarations page is after you have been in a car wreck, there is a decent chance that you have waited too long to do so. In far too many of my cases, the at-fault driver is woefully underinsured and, to add insult to injury, I often find that my client failed to purchase either the type of coverage or enough coverage necessary to soften the financial impact of a major car accident.

When asked about their coverage, many of my clients respond by saying, “I’m fully covered,” but usually that means they are merely complying with the minimum legal requirements for auto insurance in South Carolina. The problem is that “fully covered” with respect to state law and “fully covered” in the event of a serious accident are two very different things.

Most people, understandably, only look at insurance costs in the short-term. It is little more than a line-item in a household budget. However, there is an inherent risk in that mentality. Here is what you need to know:

South Carolina auto insurance requirements

South Carolina law requires that all vehicles registered in the state carry at least $25,000 per person/$50,000 per occurrence in bodily injury coverage and $25,000 in property damage coverage. A significant percentage of South Carolina drivers opt for that minimum, known as 25/50/25 policies.

Uninsured motorist coverage, which is triggered when the at-fault driver in the accident does not have insurance, is also mandatory. At a minimum, you must purchase uninsured motorist coverage in an amount equal to the bodily injury coverage provided under your policy.

So, if auto insurance is required for all vehicles and there are penalties for ignoring the law, why is uninsured motorist coverage also required? Regrettably, despite these requirements, roughly 7 percent of South Carolina drivers are uninsured.

What does the auto insurance coverage mean?

“Bodily injury” coverage, often referred to as liability coverage, compensates someone who was injured in an accident deemed to be your fault. This person could be another motorist or a passenger in your own vehicle, including your spouse or child. The intent is to compensate the injured party while shielding you from financial hardship if you are deemed liable for the damages arising from the wreck. Without bodily injury coverage, you would be personally responsible for those damages.

“Per person” refers to the most one person can recover in any given car accident. For example, if you are injured in a car wreck and the at-fault driver’s policy meets only the statutory minimum, the most you can recover for injuries is $25,000.

“Per occurrence” caps the amount all claimants combined can recover in a single accident. This becomes problematic when you have more than three claimants in a single accident and the policy in question is a $25,000/$50,000 policy or a $50,000/$100,000. If the claimants’ damages collectively exceed the “per occurrence” coverage limits, it may be difficult to fairly apportion the available benefits between all of the claimants, who clearly have competing interests.

“Property damage” coverage applies to damage sustained to any type of property by the at-fault driver’s vehicle. That property could be a vehicle or the items inside a vehicle (i.e., laptops, car seats, golf clubs) as well as buildings, fences and signs.

Increasing auto insurance limits

All motorists can (and should) purchase additional coverage.

Most insurance companies offer the types of coverage discussed above in increments of $50,000/$100,000/$50,000, $100,000/$300,000/$100,000 and $250,000/$500,000/$250,000. Increasing these limits protect you and your assets in the event that you are held responsible for an accident that results in either serious injuries to a third party or significant damage to someone else’s property. It is all about risk assessment. Every individual’s circumstances are different but the general concept of “the more you have, the more you have to lose” should be your guiding principle in deciding whether to and the amount by which to increase your coverage.

Uninsured motorist coverage can be increased too, though not beyond the amount of bodily injury coverage provided under your policy. In other words, if you carry $50,000/$100,000 in bodily injury coverage, that is the most you can purchase in uninsured coverage.

There are other types of optional coverage that are intended to insure that you are fully and fairly compensated in the event of a serious accident: underinsured motorist coverage, personal injury protection and more. We  discuss  additional auto insurance coverage in another article.

J. Richards McCrae is a partner at Morton & Gettys Law Firm in Rock Hill, South Carolina. His practice includes personal injury and civil litigation. You can reach him at 803.366.3388 or richards.mccrae@mortongettys.com.

Information or interaction on this page should not be construed as establishing a client-attorney relationship or as legal advice. For advice about your specific situation, please consult one of our attorneys.

J. Richards McCrae III

Partner

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