Food for Thought When Purchasing South Carolina Car Insurance Coverage – Underinsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage

I recently spoke with a high school friend that I had not seen in what seemed to be several months.  This person indicated that she had been in a serious vehicular accident in South Carolina, and had just returned to work recently.  When I asked if she was getting back to full health and recovery, her response was something to the effect of, “Yes, but I am extremely thankful that I paid for extra underinsured motorist coverage.  The air transport ride was about $30,000 alone.”

In South Carolina, as of this writing (January 2012), a South Carolina driver must carry what is commonly referred to as 25/50/25 liability coverage.  Though a slight oversimplification, if one is hit by a driver with 25/50/25 liability coverage, if the other party is negligent and at-fault, this person would have up to $25,000.00 worth of insurance coverage to contribute to your medical bills and other non-property damage, up to a maximum of $50,000.00 for everyone in the vehicle, and up to $25,000.00 to pay for property damage.  Using “guesses” based on the above facts, suppose my friend had incurred $30,000.00 for the air transport in damages and $55,000.00 in medical bills, without counting missed work (lost wages) for two months, pain and suffering, and other such potentially recoverable damages.  My friend would already be beyond the at-fault driver’s coverage by $60,000.00, that she would still be responsible to her medical providers for.  My friend could continue to “go after” the at-fault driver for his or her personal assets, but many people in this economy have little that can be obtained in a lawsuit after any legal exemptions are taken.  Fortunately, there are two (2) types of vehicle insurance that one can purchase in South Carolina to protect oneself from drivers only maintaining minimum coverage.

In South Carolina, insurers offer what is called underinsured motorist coverage.  When you are buying your policy, the insurer will make a meaningful offer to see if you wish to purchase this coverage for your own benefit. Suppose you carry 100/300/100 liability limits on your vehicle, such that you would have coverage should you be at fault for up to $100,000.00 in damages to one person in the hit vehicle, totaling up to $300,000.00 for all occupants, and up to $100,000.00 in property damages.  You could purchase underinsured coverage generally up to your liability amounts/limits.  If you had $100,000.00 in underinsured motorist coverage for one person and were the only one in the vehicle hit by the driver with South Carolina minimum coverage liability only, you would then potentially be able to turn to your own carrier seeking coverage for your damages greater than the at-fault driver’s coverage.

Before running out and buying more underinsured motorist coverage, it is also beneficial to briefly examine and remember uninsured motorist coverage, which must also be offered to South Carolina drivers.  Many drivers believe that since one is generally required to have liability insurance in South Carolina, that they are safe and at least will have some coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage usually applies in South Carolina when the other person has no coverage, so that they are maintaining less than that required by law, or when that driver is from a state other than South Carolina that allows lower minimum liability limits, such that the at-fault driver has insurance, but it is coverage like 15/20/15 or some other figure that is less than that required in South Carolina.  This is also the coverage that generally applies when you are hit or run off the road by a phantom driver that causes damage and then speeds off, never to be seen again.  In these circumstances, the at-fault driver may be unknown, have little to no assets, or otherwise be unable to satisfy a personal judgment beyond his or her insurance coverage.  Purchasing this coverage may be a small price to pay to ensure that you and your family are more financially protected “in case” of disaster. South Carolina’s economy is supported in large part by tourism, and out-of-state driver’s are often not as familiar with local roads as someone who lives in the community – if that driver has minimum liability coverage in his or her state that is less than South Carolina’s 25/50/25, your uninsured motorist coverage is key.

There is also a concept in South Carolina insurance law called “stacking” that is far beyond this posting.  Stacking may also be available to increase your available coverage should you be injured in a vehicular accident in South Carolina.

Spending the extra money now to insure yourself may end up saving you a lot more in the long run, and may greatly increase the amount that you are able to recover should you become involved in an accident. Please choose your coverage wisely.

There can be many additional benefits to purchasing underinsured motorist and uninsured motorist coverage, such as potential coverage while you are riding your bike or walking down the street and are hit by a vehicle, that are not touched upon in this article that may apply to your situation.  This article is not meant to be construed as legal advice, nor is it meant to cover every situation by any means.  You should consult with an attorney to discuss the facts and circumstances of your particular case.

If you would like to speak with an attorney from our firm concerning your South Carolina vehicle accident, we would be honored to speak with you.  We offer a free initial consultation for those injured by an at-fault driver while traveling on South Carolina’s roads, and can be reached at (843) 474-0614 or toll-free at (800) 996-0683.

Lee Law Firm, LLC is a South Carolina based law firm that advocates for and counsels clients throughout South Carolina and its Low Country, primarily in Beaufort and Jasper counties (including Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Daufuskie Island, Ridgeland, Callawassie Island, Okatie, Hardeeville, and Beaufort).