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What is an underinsured motorist?

If you get into a car accident and exchange information with the other party, it might come as a relief when they pull out an insurance card. Unfortunately, however, this does not necessarily mean their insurance will cover your damages and injuries. According to the Insurance Information Institute, only 12.6 percent of drivers nationwide are uninsured, but even more than this are underinsured.

You have perhaps heard the term "underinsured motorist" but may not be clear on exactly what it means. Many people purchase the state minimum coverage when they buy auto insurance, which may or may not be sufficient for a serious accident. The following facts are important to understanding underinsured motorist coverage.

It could mean they have no liability insurance

An underinsured motorist may lack liability insurance. This means that in the event of a collision, their insurance covers only property damage to their vehicle but not injuries to other parties. Even if the insured is at fault, you will have no luck getting coverage or compensation after the accident.

It could mean their liability insurance is insufficient

You are in a better situation if the driver carries liability insurance. Even this, though, does not guarantee that the insurance will cover your injuries and other damages. All liability policies have payout limits. If the driver's limits happen to be low -- such as the state minimum  -- there may not be enough insurance to cover your losses. You are only slightly better off than if they had no coverage at all, and possibly stuck with massive medical bills.

Your own insurance can protect you from an underinsured driver

Though underinsured motorists pose a major threat to other drivers on the road, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. You can invest in uninsured motorist/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) on your own auto policy so that you have "fallback" coverage to rely on. There is a good chance that you already have some of this coverage under your car insurance. But it is likely that your UM/UIM limits are low. It is relatively inexpensive to increase your uninsured/underinsured limits, and priceless protection in the event of a serious crash.

If you have been in an accident with a driver who has no insurance or low coverage, the best recourse is to seek legal counsel and representation. An attorney who handles car accidents will know how to determine the available coverages and the best approach to your case.

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