UPDATED APRIL 17, 2019
As New Jersey attorneys who regularly represent people injured in car accidents, we are very familiar with representing people in uninsured and underinsured motorist claims. We would like to take the time to explain some of the important points regarding UM and UIM claims in New Jersey.
What is an Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist claim?
In New Jersey, all Standard car insurance policies for private passenger vehicles must include uninsured motorist (UM) and must offer as an option underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. UM coverage applies when a person is injured by another driver who is either uninsured, insured under a Special policy (a policy for Medicaid recipients that offers no liability coverage whatsoever), or who is unidentified because they fled the scene or gave the wrong information at the scene (i.e. a “phantom” vehicle). In such a case, the person’s own insurance company basically acts as the insurance company for the uninsured driver who was at fault. UIM coverage is a similar – if we know who the at-fault driver is, and they have insurance, but the insurance is not sufficient to cover the injuries that they caused, then the UIM carrier acts as extra insurance. For example, if the injury is hypothetically worth $50,000 and the person at fault has only $15,000 in coverage (the N.J. state minimum) then the injured person can make a claim against their own insurance company for the $35,000 difference (assuming that they have at least $50,000 of UIM coverage of their own). UM coverage is required in NJ and carriers must offer the option of purchasing UIM coverage, but you are not allowed to purchase UM/UIM coverage that is greater than your liability coverage. It is highly recommended that you purchase as much UM/UIM coverage as you are legally allowed to purchase – this is to protect you and your loved ones in the case of an accident!
UM/UIM claims result in your own carrier fighting against you!
As you can see, people purchase UM/UIM policies to protect themselves when they are injured through no fault of their own by people who are either uninsured or underinsured. However, this does not mean that your insurance company will gladly write a check a pay claims. The insurance companies are well aware that they have no obligation to pay all claims, but only those claims that the uninsured or underinsured person would be responsible for paying. In other words, your own carrier who you have been paying premiums to for years is essentially acting as the insurance company for the person who injured you! That means that they will hire an attorney who is your adversary and do what they feel is necessary to pay as little as possible or even avoid paying entirely.
Recently, there has been some talk about this issue when the brother of Kaitlynn Fisher began making noise online. Kaitlynn Fisher was sadly killed in a tragic car crash in Baltimore when a man ran a red light, hit Katie’s car, and killed her. The brother, Matt, said that his sister paid Progressive Insurance to defend the man that killed her. This was because the at-fault driver had minimal insurance and his insurance company paid the full policy limits almost right away. And since Kaitlynn purchased a UIM policy from Progressive, her family made a claim with Progressive. The Consumerist covered this story in several pieces. According to those sources, what essentially occurred is that Progressive refused to pay more than 1/3 of what the claim was really worth and hired a legal team to attack Ms. Fisher’s case. Progressive was sued and the case then went to trial. Although Progressive was not “officially” the attorney for the person who killed this woman, they were the functional equivalent since they were reportedly arguing at trial that Ms. Fisher may have been partially at fault for the tragic accident.
The process of UM and UIM claims in New Jersey
Very briefly, the process for making a UM or UIM claim in New Jersey is as follows: Once it is apparent that an injured person has a valid UM or UIM claim, their attorney would put the insurance company on notice and open a claim. The insurance company may or may not agree to settle the claim in the early stages. If it does not settle, the parties may go to an arbitration to resolve the claim. Depending on the language of the policy, arbitration may be only optional (i.e. both parties must agree to do it) or it may only be binding if the arbitration award does not exceed $15,000. If the claim still does not resolve, then the person would have to sue their own insurance company to collect on the claim. If you or someone you know may have an uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist claim, please call us for a 100% free consultation. We have handled claims like these for decades and we are very experienced in protecting the rights of people injured in car accidents.Based in Paterson, New Jersey, Raff & Raff, LLP services clients in the communities of Bloomingdale, Clifton, Haledon, Hawthorne, Little Falls, Passaic, Paterson, Pompton Lakes, Prospect Park, Ringwood, Totowa, Wanaque, Wayne, West Milford, Woodland Park, Allendale, Alpine, Bergenfield, Bogota, Carlstadt, Cliffside Park, Closter, Cresskill, Demarest, Dumont, East Rutherford, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Emerson, Englewood, Fair Lawn, Fort Lee, Franklin Lakes, Garfield, Glenn Rock, Hackensack, Hasbrouck Heights, Haworth, Hillsdale, Ho-Ho-Kus, Leonia, Little Ferry, Lodi, Lyndhurst, Mahwah, Maywood, Midland Park, Montvale, Moonachie, New Milford, North Arlington, Northvale, Norwood, Oakland, Old Tappan, Oradell, Palisades Park, Paramus, Park Ridge, Ramsey, Ridgefield, Ridgewood, River Edge, River Vale, Rochelle Park, Rockleigh, Rutherford, Saddle Brook, Saddle River, Teaneck, Tenafly, Teterboro, Waldwick, Wallington, Westwood, Wood-Ridge, Woodcliff Lake, Wyckoff, Belleville, Bloomfield, Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Orange, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Glen Ridge, Irvington, Livingston, Maplewood, Millburn, Montclair, Newark, North Caldwell, Nutley, Roseland, Verona, Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, Union City, West New York, Guttenberg, Secaucus, Kearney, Harrison, North Bergen, Weehawken, Elizabeth, Linden, Plainsfield, Rahway, Union, Scotch Plains, Clark, Cranford, Hillside, Westfield, Roselle, and surrounding areas.