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Uninsured & Underinsured Motorists

UNINSURED AND UNDERINSURED MOTORIST CLAIMS

This article is intended to summarize the rights you may have if you have been involved in a car accident or motor vehicle accident with an underinsured or uninsured motorist in Oregon.  An underinsured motorist is a person who causes a motor vehicle accident and does not have adequate insurance policy limits available to fully cover all of the damages that result from their negligence.  An uninsured motorist is an individual that has no motor vehicle accident liability insurance coverage.

Oregon Revised Statute (“ORS”) 742.502 requires every motor vehicle liability policy issued or delivered in Oregon to also contain underinsured and uninsured motorist insurance coverage.  This coverage is meant to protect you in the event you are involved in a car accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist and is meant to increase the probability that you will be compensated for your personal injury, wrongful death, or damages claim.  Underinsured and uninsured motorist policy limits must be at least $25,000.00, and the policy limits are generally equal to or greater than the bodily injury liability insurance limits on the policy.  For example, if you have insurance that will cover $50,000.00 in damages in the event you cause a motor vehicle accident (liability coverage), you generally will also have at least $50,000.00 in uninsured and underinsured motorist policy limits to cover your personal injury, wrongful death, or damages claim in the event you are injured or damaged by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.

Personal Injury Protection Coverage           

Before discussing how uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance coverage works, it is important to understand personal injury protection coverage.  By law, all insurance policies sold in Oregon are required to have personal injury protection (“PIP”) coverage.  This coverage requirement was enacted by the Oregon legislature to ensure that anybody injured while driving or riding in an insured vehicle will have insurance to pay for medical treatment for their injuries.  Regardless of fault for an accident, your PIP coverage under your insurance policy is primarily responsible for paying for your medical treatment for your accident-related injuries.   PIP coverage will pay all reasonable and necessary expenses of medical, hospital, dental, surgical, ambulance and prosthetic services incurred within two years after the date of the car accident or personal injury.  By law, the minimum PIP coverage policy limit is $15,000, and this amount can generally be increased significantly for only a few dollars extra in premiums per year.  If somebody else is determined to be at fault for the car accident, your insurance company will collect back from the at-fault driver or his/her insurance company all the money paid out to you under your PIP coverage, and you should not see any increase in your insurance premiums.

How Does Uninsured Motorist Coverage Work?

Uninsured motorist coverage basically works the same as bodily injury liability insurance coverage.  In a typical car accident, (where all parties involved have insurance), the injured party’s medical bills are paid by their PIP insurance regardless of fault and regardless if the person who caused the car accident is insured, underinsured, or uninsured.  Typically, the injured party has the right to assert a claim for personal injury against the negligent, at-fault driver.  The negligent driver’s bodily injury liability insurance coverage pays for the injured party’s damages and personal injury claim.  However, when the at-fault driver is uninsured, the injured party still has the same rights to recovery, but their recovery comes from their own insurance policy, pursuant to their uninsured motorist coverage, instead of from the at-fault driver’s liability insurance policy.

Regardless of insurance coverage, you always have the right to file a lawsuit and seek to collect damages from an uninsured motorist who negligently causes you damage or personal injury.  However, as a practical matter, individuals that drive without insurance coverage typically do not have the financial means to pay a personal injury or wrongful death judgment.  Therefore, spending time and money to go through the court process will likely be unproductive.  In addition, your uninsured motorist coverage may not be available to you if you proceed against the negligent uninsured motorist.  You typically have to give up your right to assert a claim against the uninsured individual in order to pursue your personal injury or wrongful death claim through your uninsured motorist coverage under your insurance policy.

How Does Underinsured Motorist Coverage Work?

For insurance policies issued or renewed prior to January 1, 2016, underinsured motorist insurance is only available if the at-fault driver’s liability insurance policy limits are less than your underinsured motorist policy limits.  For example, there will be no underinsured motorist insurance available if an at-fault driver with $25,000.00 liability insurance policy limits crashes into and causes personal injury to a driver with $25,000.00 underinsured motorist policy limits.  However, an injured party with $75,000.00 in underinsured motorist coverage would have $50,000.00 in underinsured motorist benefits available if they were struck by an at-fault driver with a $25,000.00 liability policy.  In other words, the availability of underinsured motorist coverage is equal to the difference between the underinsured motorist policy limits and the liability policy limits of the at-fault driver.

For all insurance policies issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2016, underinsured motorist coverage gets stacked on top of any liability policy limits recovered from the at-fault driver.  For example, if the at-fault driver has $50,000.00 in liability insurance, and you have $100,000.00 in underinsured motorist coverage, then you potentially have $150,000.00 in combined insurance to cover your damages.

In order to make an underinsured motorist claim, you must first exhaust the insurance policy limits of the at-fault driver’s insurance policy.  In other words, if the at-fault driver has a $25,000.00 liability policy then the entire $25,000.00 needs to be paid out before you can assert an underinsured motorist claim.  You must also get your insurance company’s permission to settle the claim against the at-fault driver.  Failure to get permission may result in a forfeiture of your right to make an underinsured motorist claim on your policy.

Call our experienced personal injury attorneys for a free consultation to discuss your specific circumstances and to ensure your right to recover uninsured or underinsured personal injury damages.

Article by Keith R. Shepherd 

This article has been prepared by attorney Keith R. Shepherd as means to provide general information regarding personal injury and/or wrongful death claims. Each case should be evaluated individually on its merits by a competent attorney, and in no way should these articles be construed as specific legal advice or as the basis for the formation of a legal relationship with White & Shepherd, LLP. For a free consultation regarding your case, please email Keith R. Shepherd at Keith@lawfirmws.com or call 503-922-2028.

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At White & Shepherd, LLP, we work with clients throughout Oregon, including in Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, Tigard, Forest Grove, Gresham, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Tualatin, West Linn and Wilsonville, and in the counties of Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas.