Illinois drivers are required by law to show proof that they carry insurance before they get behind the wheel. However, the amount of coverage drivers are required to carry has not kept pace with inflation. Many accident victims discover that the other driver’s insurance company will pay only a fraction of their medical bills and nowhere near enough to fix a severely damaged vehicle.
The Stein & Shulman team frequently helps victims who are involved in an underinsured motorist accident seek additional compensation through their own insurance policies, and by taking direct legal action against the underinsured driver when appropriate. We have helped victims from across the Chicagoland area recover millions of dollars in compensation for their injuries.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage
With the exception of New Hampshire, every state in the country requires drivers to purchase automobile insurance. In Illinois, car owners are required to show proof that they carry insurance before they get behind the wheel of a new car.
The Illinois Department of Insurance put together this summary of what insurance is required by law:
Liability Coverage – Pays for bodily injury to another person or property damage you cause due to the negligent operation of a vehicle. It may also pay if the accident was caused by a member of your family living with you or a person using your vehicle with your permission. The coverage may also pay for a legal defense if you’re sued because of the accident. Liability coverage is often split into two separate coverages:
- Bodily Injury (BI) – Pays for costs due to injury or death to a pedestrian(s) or person(s) in another car. It may also cover your passengers’ injury costs as long as they aren’t members of your household. Illinois law (625 ILCS 5/7-203) requires BI limits of at least $25,000 per person per accident and $50,000 total per accident.
- Property Damage (PD) – Pays for damage to another person’s car or property such as fences, buildings, utility poles, signs, and trees. Illinois law (625 ILCS 5/7-203) requires PD liability limits of at least $20,000 per accident.
Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage (UM) – Covers you for your bodily injury caused by a hit-and-run driver or an at-fault driver who has no auto liability insurance. Currently, Illinois uninsured motorist bodily injury minimum limits are $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. For additional premium, you may buy higher limits to pay for claims that exceed those amounts.
Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury Insurance (UIM) – Pays the difference between your UIM limits and the liability limits of the at-fault driver, if lower than your UIM limits. Illinois law (215 ILCS 5/143a-2) requires this type of coverage if you purchase higher limits of uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage (UM).
It is this last type of coverage, underinsured motorist bodily injury insurance (UIM), that comes into play in an accident where the other driver’s insurance is insufficient to cover all of your damages.
Not Everyone Has UIM Coverage
The summary above is a bit confusing. It hides the fact that not every driver has UIM coverage. Insurance companies are only required to provide it when a policyholder purchases more uninsured motorist (UM) coverage than is legally required.
Currently, Illinois uninsured motorist bodily injury (UM) minimum limits are $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. Many policyholders do purchase more coverage than this because they know the medical bills and property damage that accompany the typical accident can add up quickly, so it is an easy up-sell for insurance agents.
A quick look at your insurance policy will tell you how much UM, and therefore UIM, you have.
If this is all about insurance coverage, why do I need to hire an attorney?
Making a claim against your own insurance seems pretty straightforward, which makes a lot of people question the value of working with an attorney to do so. The reason you may wish to hire an experienced personal injury attorney to negotiate with your insurance company after an accident with an underinsured motorist is two-fold:
First, if you have been seriously injured you should be focused on healing, not worrying about pushing paperwork. Let us worry about filling out all the required forms and answering all the questions the claims adjuster is going to have.
Second, the insurance company is going to be looking for any reason possible to deny your claim, or at least reduce the amount of money they are required to pay you. Although they may insure you, their number one concern is their bottom line. You need a strong advocate in your corner to hold their feet to the fire and make them pay you what you deserve.
One of the main ways insurance companies deny coverage or reduce their payouts is by really pushing Illinois’s modified comparative negligence law.
Under Illinois law, the amount of compensation you are eligible for depends on your actions. You can only seek compensation if the accident was less than 51% your fault. If the evidence shows you were the main reason an accident occured, you will be denied any money to help pay your medical expenses or other bills. In fact, the other driver will be the one seeking compensation from you and your insurer.
Even if you are eligible for compensation, the amount you can recover may be reduced if you were even partially responsible for the accident. For example, if you have $100,000 in medical expenses related to your accident, but the evidence shows you were 20% responsible, you will only be eligible for $80,000 in compensation.
Some common reasons accident victims see their compensation reduced include:
- Texting while driving;
- Distracted driving;
- Poor auto maintenance; and
- Failure to obey basic traffic laws, like using a turn signal.
The experienced underinsured motorist accident attorneys at Stein & Shulman knows how critical it is to gather evidence that proves our client was not the one who caused their accident. We pull police reports, interview witnesses, visit the scene of the accident and do whatever else we can to find compelling evidence that proves the other driver was at fault.
Suing the Other Driver
Technically, you or your insurance company may legally be able to sue an underinsured motorist for the harm they have caused that was not covered by their insurance policy. The reality is most underinsured drivers do not have substantial assets, so suing them for compensation is a fool’s errand.
Contact Our Chicago Car Accident Lawyers Today
If you have been involved in a car accident with an underinsured driver and suffered a serious injury, we are here to help. Whether you are ready to take legal action and seek compensation, or are just curious about what options are available to you, we are ready to take your call. Please contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.