Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists Coverage - Are Your Limits Adequate? - Be Careful!

Author, David J. Garcia, A.A.I., CRIS, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.

Earlier in the year, we published the article "Commercial Auto Premiums Are Rising - What’s Driving the Increases?," which addresses how insurance companies are all experiencing adverse loss experience within their commercial automobile books of business. The result of these mounting losses is causing a dramatic rise in commercial Auto premiums for most policyholders.

As a result of this trend, we are seeing many carriers and brokers reducing coverage limits and terms on certain lines of automobile coverage. This represents a major concern for any business owner that has any size fleet of vehicles. Reducing limits and/or modifying terms of coverage simply transfers more claim exposure directly to the business owner. And, unfortunately, in many cases, business owners are unaware of the change or ill informed. 

One specific line of coverage that we are seeing this occur, and creates great concern, is uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. The number of uninsured motorists nationwide is alarming and here in California there are between 3.6 million and 4.1 million uninsured drivers, or 14.7 percent of all drivers. Additionally, the minimum limit of insurance in California is only $15,000. So, while many motorists may have insurance, they are woefully “underinsured.”   These factors pose potential catastrophic exposures to any business. To illustrate this point, we will briefly define these coverage’s and then look further into how these lower limits of coverage terms may impact the health of your business.

Uninsured Motorists Coverage

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM) helps pay your, your employees and your passenger’s medical expenses, lost wages and related property damages if you're in an accident caused by a driver who doesn't have liability insurance.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) helps pay your, your employees and your passenger’s  medical expenses, lost wages, and related property damages, if any of you are hurt in a car accident caused by someone with liability insurance, but whose coverage limits are lower than those you choose for this coverage, and aren't high enough to pay the damages.

Best practices suggests anything less than $1,000,000 limit for uninsured/underinsured coverage is inadequate and puts the business at extreme financial risk. Let me explain by sharing just two, of many real-world, examples of how this could occur. The following examples assume the accident is the fault of an uninsured or underinsured driver:

Example 1. If one of your employees is involved in an automobile accident by either an uninsured or underinsured motorist and it involved the use of a vehicle for business purposes, the resulting medical and indemnity costs would be covered under your company’s workers' compensation policy. Two negative consequences to your overall insurance program develop as a result of this incident. First, your workers' compensation claims experience (loss ratio and EMR) will be negatively impacted. Second, since the “at fault” driver is either uninsured or underinsured, subrogation (or the recovery of the claim dollars from the responsible party) is ruled out as a viable option to your workers' compensation carrier. 

Therefore, the auto loss described above would not only negatively affect your auto insurance experience but also your workers' compensation experience, as well. By having a minimum of $1,000,000 UM/UIM limits, you would have allowed you workers' compensation carrier to subrogate the costs of the claim to the auto carrier and thereby reduce the impact to your workers' compensation loss ratio and EMR

Example 2. Let’s assume you have a non-employee in the vehicle and they are involved in an accident involving an uninsured/underinsured motorist and they are injured. Since this is a non-employee, their injuries would not be eligible for coverage under your workers' compensation policy and rest solely on your automobile insurance limits and coverages. Thus, these injuries, once the uninsured/underinsured limit of your automobile policy is exhausted, would become the responsibility of the business. By having a minimum of $1,000,000 UM/UIM limits, you would fill the gap created by the uninsured/underinsured motorist's lack of coverage and protect your business from this catastrophic loss.

These examples have only touched on the medical and indemnity portion of the loss. Consider there may be property damage involved as well, which only further increases the potential of out of pocket expenses a business might be responsible for paying. Additionally, keep in mind that any excess liability policy you may have in place does not cover uninsured/underinsured motorist claims.

In summary we recommend that you review your coverage limits and terms for adequacy concerning these critical coverages. At a minimum, you should have a limit of no less than a $1,000,000 for these coverages. The premium savings by lowering this limit or modifying its coverage terms is insignificant to the catastrophic loss you are exposing your business to. Do not allow one terrible incident to take your business from you when the cost to transfer this risk is marginal.

If you have any questions or need help in accessing your exposures, please call our Rancho Mesa Team. We offer full policy audits as part of our RM365 Advantage Program that helps you to identify any gaps in coverage and provide you with Best Practices risk management recommendations.