GUEST COLUMN: Consider an Uninsured Motorist Umbrella Policy
By Rocky McElhaney
What does “full coverage” mean to you? Let’s say you were in a wreck where you were the at-fault driver. If you have full coverage you should be fully protected, right? What about if you were hit by an uninsured driver? “Full coverage” would have your back, wouldn’t it? The truth is, too many folks think they are fully covered because they pay an arm and leg for insurance only to find out after a wreck, they didn’t purchase the right types of coverage, or enough coverage.
Before we talk about the higher level of protection an umbrella policy can offer you and your family, it’s a good idea to pull out your insurance declarations page (which contains a list of all your coverage limits) and check your basic auto insurance policy for each of the following types of coverage. Chances are, you may not have adequate coverage to insure every accident scenario.
In Tennessee, you are required to have two types of insurance: bodily injury liability and property damage liability. The first is bodily injury liability coverage, which pays for damages you cause to other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. The second is property damage liability coverage, which pays for the costs of damages you cause to the other driver’s vehicle(s) or other property.
There’s also a third type of insurance called Uninsured/Underinsured (UM/UIM) coverage. This is a supplemental type of auto insurance coverage which helps protect you and your passengers in the event you are hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver.
Bodily injury liability and UM/UIM are often sold together in a bundle so that your UM/UIM limits match your liability limits. Again, it’s important never to assume coverage. Always ask your agent, “What are my UM limits?”
In Tennessee, you might actually be given the option to “opt-out” of UM/UIM to save on your policy. DON’T DO IT! The savings are minimal and the consequences of not having this coverage could be catastrophic.
Between the horrors I’ve seen handling cases for serious injury victims of wrecks involving unlicensed, drunk drivers for the last 20 years and the 20% of Tennessee drivers out there on the road driving uninsured, I feel it’s my duty to recommend that you purchase as much UM/UIM insurance as you possibly can. When it comes to you, your passengers, your family, and your loved ones, you just can’t take chances.
Assuming you are square with those types of coverage, let’s talk about getting some additional peace of mind with an umbrella policy.
What is an Umbrella?
A liability umbrella policy is a supplemental insurance policy purchased on top of your regular liability coverage. It works like a fail-safe to provide an additional layer of security if you are at risk for being sued personally for significant property damage and serious bodily injury when your insurance isn’t enough to cover the damages.
Just like with liability and UM/UIM under your regular auto insurance coverage, in Tennessee, you can also purchase a UM/UIM clause under your liability umbrella policy for up to the amount of the liability umbrella.
A UM umbrella policy protects you and your passengers or you as a passenger, bicyclist, or pedestrian in a case where you’re hit and the at-fault driver doesn’t carry enough insurance and your own regular UM/UIM limits have been exhausted. In a multi-person, multi-injury car wreck, burning through your regular UM/UIM limits is all too easy. Having the additional financial cushion from a UM umbrella can be life-changing.
Liability umbrella policies are typically recommended to those who have a family, own property, or have significant assets, however, there is no one exempt from the benefit of adding a UM umbrella. It’s important to note that most auto insurance companies do offer liability umbrellas but do not offer UM umbrellas. When talking to your agent, be specific and ask questions about who is covered and what is covered. I think UM umbrellas are so important that I actually switched from an auto insurance carrier I was happy with and had been with for years in order to go to another carrier that had the specific UM umbrella that my wife and I needed for our family.
How Much is Enough?
Most insurers cap the amount of auto liability coverage they will sell you at $1 million. Buy as much as you can.
What's the Cost?
An umbrella policy with UM coverage typically costs somewhere between an additional $200 to $350 per policy term. Considering what’s at stake, spending a little extra to protect the ones you love is well worth the coin.
Rocky McElhaney is an award-winning trial attorney, founder and CEO of the Rocky McElhaney Law Firm. Rocky has helped thousands of Tennesseans financially recover from life-altering wrecks and has become an authority on all matters of insurance and personal injury. For more information, call (615) 425-2500 or visit RockyLawFirm.com.