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Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage in New York

Car accidents can have life-changing consequences. Between damage to one’s car, medical bills, lost time at work, and potential permanent injuries, car accidents can be extremely costly.

Like all other states, New York requires drivers to carry car insurance policies to ensure that accident victims will be compensated. However, despite this requirement, some drivers continue to illegally drive without insurance. According to some estimates, 6.1% of New York drivers are currently uninsured.

Often, a person’s Personal Injury Protection coverage isn’t enough to cover all of the costs associated with a car accident. If the other driver was at fault, that driver’s bodily injury liability coverage would pick up the rest of the expenses. However, that doesn’t always happen, whether because the other driver was illegally driving without insurance or simply because their policy limit isn’t high enough to cover the full cost of the accident. When this happens, the injured person’s uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage can bridge the gap and provide compensation.

What Is Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage?

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage are an extra layer of protection available to compensate a policyholder who is injured in a car accident. Normally, the first layer of coverage available to anyone injured in a car accident is Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, which becomes available regardless of who is at fault. However, PIP is often not enough to cover the full cost of an accident.

Once a person’s PIP coverage is depleted, the next source of compensation is suing the driver at fault for the accident. The driver at fault is generally responsible for paying for any injuries not covered by PIP. To ensure that the driver at fault can pay for these injuries, New York requires that all drivers carry at least $25,000 of third-party bodily injury coverage per accident.

However, some drivers break the law by failing to carry car insurance. Even when drivers do follow the law, the $25,000 minimum limit isn’t very high and may not be enough to cover the full cost of the accident. When this happens, the injured driver can receive payment from their own UM or UIM coverage.

UM and UIM cover any difference between the amount received from a driver’s own PIP benefits, any compensation from the other driver’s bodily injury coverage (in a UIM claim), and the total cost of the accident, up to the policy limit of the UM/UIM coverage. For example, if a driver suffered $100,000 in injuries, had $50,000 in PIP coverage, and received $25,000 in compensation from the other driver’s bodily injury coverage, the injured driver’s UIM coverage would cover the remaining $25,000.

Uninsured motorist coverage is also available when the other driver in an accident is never identified, such as in a hit-and-run collision. New York Insurance Law § 5217 specifies that uninsured motorist coverage applies whenever a person is injured by “physical contact” with an unidentified driver.

Courts have interpreted this to mean that UM coverage applies only when there is a physical collision, not when a person is injured swerving to miss an unidentified driver. In Smith v. Great American Insurance Co., the New York Court of Appeals reasoned that the “physical contact” language of the law means that near-miss accidents with an unidentified do not qualify for UM coverage.

Near-miss accidents with identified uninsured motorists do qualify for UM coverage, however. In Travelers Indemnity Co. v. Panther, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court allowed a UM claim to proceed against an insurance company despite a lack of physical contact because the driver at fault was identified as an uninsured motorist.

It’s a good idea to contact a personal injury lawyer before filing a UM or UIM claim. UM and UIM claims are available only if another driver was at fault for the accident, meaning insurers only need to pay out if the policyholder wasn’t primarily at fault for the accident. A personal injury lawyer can make the best possible case that the other driver was at fault and that the policyholder is therefore entitled to UM or UIM benefits.

What Do UM and UIM Cover?

UM and UIM cover bodily injury resulting from car accidents in New York State, whether the policyholder was in a car or was a pedestrian struck by a car. Exactly what kinds of losses UM and UIM cover depends on the type of accident and the type of coverage the policyholder has.

All New York car insurance policies are required to include at least $25,000 per accident in UM coverage. This basic coverage covers only economic losses, defined as medical bills and lost wages from missing work, unless the person suffers serious injuries. New York Insurance Law § 5102 defines serious injuries to include:

  • Death
  • Dismemberment
  • Significant disfigurement
  • Loss of a fetus
  • Fractures
  • Permanent loss or impairment of a limb or organ
  • Any injury that impairs someone’s ability to perform daily tasks for at least 90 days

If a person has suffered serious injury, basic UM coverage will pay for non-economic losses as well. Non-economic losses include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional trauma, and other losses that are harder to quantify than medical bills or lost wages.

In addition to basic UM coverage, anyone buying a car insurance policy in New York may buy supplemental underinsured motorist coverage (SUM), which also includes UIM coverage. SUM coverage covers any loss, economic or not, from a car accident in any state.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is uninsured motorist coverage required?

Yes. New York requires all car insurance policies to include at least $25,000 in UM coverage. However, UIM coverage is optional.

What is SUM coverage?

SUM is supplementary underinsured motorist coverage. All insurers are required to make up to $400,000 available, but buying it will raise your car insurance premium.

Do I need a lawyer for an uninsured motorist claim?

While you can file an uninsured motorist claim without a lawyer, it’s a good idea to consult with one first. The insurer only needs to pay if the other driver was at fault for the accident, and they may dispute that driver’s fault to avoid paying. A personal injury lawyer can build a case that the other driver was at fault and make the insurer more likely to pay.

What Should I Do If I’ve Been Injured by an Uninsured or Underinsured Driver?

If you’ve been injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver, contact Rosenblum Law today for a free consultation today. Our experienced personal injury attorneys can evaluate your situation and your insurance policy to see if a UM or UIM claim is the best way to receive compensation. Call 888-815-3649 or email us today.

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