UNDERSTANDING YOUR COVERAGE: A Guide to Auto Insurance and Injury Claims in Missouri

If you've been involved in a car accident that resulted in significant injuries necessitating long-term medical treatment, your recovery might be less than you anticipate. As attorneys, our negotiations typically involve insurance companies, who are usually the sources of recovery for injury claims. However, the reality can be harsh when the available insurance doesn't adequately compensate for the loss. What's worse, we sometimes encounter at-fault drivers with no insurance coverage at all. In fact, you have roughly a 1 in 5 chance of being involved in a car accident with an uninsured driver. Because of these issues with underinsured and uninsured drivers, evaluating your coverage to protect against others' negligence is critical.

Missouri law mandates that drivers have minimum policy limits: $25,000 per person for bodily injury liability, $50,000 per accident for bodily injury liability, $10,000 per accident for property damage, and uninsured motorist coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident for bodily injuries. While this might seem substantial, even a minor soft tissue injury requiring emergency medical care, a follow-up with your primary care physician, physical therapy, and possibly injections and an MRI, could easily exceed the $25,000 limit.

Furthermore, the phrase "full coverage" is often misunderstood. It usually refers to comprehensive and collision coverage added to your state minimum policy—excellent for protecting your vehicle, but it doesn't necessarily increase your bodily injury limits. It's also possible that your "full coverage" policy doesn't include underinsured coverage, arguably the most cost-effective and vital coverage you can have.

Underinsured coverage comes into play when the at-fault party's insurance is exhausted. For instance, if you're in an accident with a driver having a state minimum bodily injury (BI) policy of $25,000, and your case is worth $50,000, if you have up to $50,000 in underinsured coverage, your attorneys would recover the full $25,000 from the at-fault party's insurer and then seek the remaining $25,000 from your underinsured policy.

Fortunately, you should not see an increase in your premiums if you weren't at fault for the accident. However, the term "at fault" is open to interpretation and requires a fact-specific legal analysis of the accident's circumstances.

Remember that you shouldn't feel guilty about raising a claim against your own insurer. When you purchase insurance, you enter a legally binding contract with the insurer, where you agree to pay a certain premium for coverage up to a specific value. In fact, your insurance agent may not even be aware that you have an underinsured motorist claim pending. These negotiations are typically handled by attorneys and adjusters, not your personal agent.

So, how much insurance should you have? It's a complex question that depends on your unique situation. However, underinsured and uninsured motorist coverages are arguably the two most important coverages, and they are usually the least expensive types to increase. Bear in mind that you cannot retroactively increase your limits after an accident occurs. Like estate planning, setting your coverage limits is a proactive measure because you never know when you might fall victim to someone's negligent driving.