Articles Posted in Underinsured Motorist Coverage

What happens if you are involved in a serious motor vehicle accident in New Jersey that is caused by another vehicle, and that vehicle does not have enough insurance to adequately cover the injuries you sustained in the accident? Most insurance policies that are written in the state of New Jersey have very small bodily injury limits. Obviously, the higher the bodily injury limits, the more costly the insurance premiums. Because consumers often shop for the cheapest insurance available, the bodily injury limits they purchase often are insufficient to cover a claim where individuals are seriously injured. Fortunately, in addition to bodily injury limits, insurance policies also have uninsured (UM) and underinsured (UIM) provisions. These provisions protect policyholders in the event they are injured by a car whose bodily injury limits are inadequate to cover the claim. It is important to make sure that the UM and UIM limits you have are substantial enough to cover you and your family members in the event these provisions need to be used.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on June 10, 2009 in the case of Bardis v. First Trenton Insurance Company. In this ruling the Court addressed whether the uninsured or underinsured individual responsible for the underlying accident, or whether the insurance company that is providing UM or UIM coverage should be identified to the jury during a trial for damages. In this case, the defendant who caused the automobile accident had a minimum, $15,000.00 policy. This policy was not adequate to compensate the plaintiff for the injuries he sustained in the accident. Therefore, the plaintiff made a UIM claim against his insurance company, First Trenton, for additional compensation. The plaintiff and his insurance company, First Trenton, could not agree on a settlement and the case went to trial. At issue is whether the defendant at the time of trial should be identified as the insurance company or as the individual who actually caused the NJ auto accident.

The Supreme Court’s ruling leaves “identification of the insurer as defendant to the sound discretion of the trial judge to decide under the circumstances.” In essence, while the real claim in a UM or UIM case is against an insurance company, courts are concerned that if a jury feels the defendant is a company instead of an individual, the jury might be distracted “from a fair evaluation of the evidence and motivate an award of damages based on a jury’s perception of an insurer as having deep pockets.”

What happens if you are involved in an automobile accident in New Jersey and the driver that caused the accident has a limited insurance policy that is not sufficient to compensate you for the damages that you have sustained? This is a question that we are asked all the time.

In New Jersey, a 1983 statute was enacted that required every liability policy insuring every motor vehicle provide the insured with an option to purchase underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). Carriers were required to offer this coverage, with limits of at least $250,000.00 per person and $500,000.00 per accident, or a single limit of $500,000.00. The coverage gave motorists recourse to their own insurance policies when the coverage of a driver at fault in an accident is inadequate to compensate for injuries suffered.

What this means is that if you are in a New Jersey car accident with an at fault driver who has a policy of insurance with a limit of $15,000.00 and you have a UIM policy with limits of $100,000.00, you can potentially collect the $15,000.00 from the other party and then start a separate action for an additional $85,000.00 from your own insurance company. In New Jersey, there is no “stacking” of policies allowed. What this means is that you can not recover the value of the two policies combined, but can recover a maximum total amount of the full value of your UIM coverage.