Missouri only requires a person to carry $25,000.00 coverage for each injured person.  If you are involved in an accident with a driver who carries this minimum coverage, that is the most you will be able to collect from the other driver’s insurance company for your injuries.  In other words, if you have medical bills that are greater than $25,000.00, you may get stuck with a lot of medical bills that you have to pay yourself – even if the accident wasn’t your fault.  Sure, you can try to sue the other driver personally if he doesn’t have enough insurance.  However, minimal insurance coverage usually means that the person has minimal income or assets, so it might be a giant waste of your time and money to sue the driver personally, as you may never be able to collect a judgment from the driver.  The easiest way to protect yourself is through your purchase of underinsured motorist coverage. 

Underinsured motorist coverage should not be confused with uninsured motorist coverage.  Uninsured motorist coverage is actually required in Missouri on every Missouri auto policy, and that coverage pays you if the other driver fails to carry any insurance.  If you have auto insurance in Missouri, you also have uninsured motorist coverage. 

Underinsured motorist coverage, on the other hand, is optional and requires you to pay an additional premium for that coverage.  But in the event that you are seriously injured by a person with minimum insurance, you will be glad you paid a small premium for that underinsured motorist coverage.
Generally, underinsured motorist coverage does not apply until after you have received the insurance policy limits from the other driver’s insurance company.  If you settle with the other driver’s insurance company for less than the other driver’s policy limits, underinsured motorist coverage will not apply.  It is also very important for you to read your automobile policy before you settle your case with an underinsured motorist, as your insurance carrier might require you to do certain acts before you can settle with the other driver.  Your failure to do some of the acts required of the policy could result in your own insurance company not having to pay you, so it is very important that you read the policy thoroughly before you settle with the other driver. 

Underinsured motorist coverage typically provides “gap” coverage for the difference between what the other driver has for insurance coverage and for what you have for  insurance coverage.  For instance, if you purchase $100,000.00 in underinsured motorist coverage and the other driver only has $25,000.00 in coverage, your policy would pay up to an additional $75,000.00 in coverage for your injuries.  However, that is not always the case.  You have to read your policy very carefully to know exactly what you have to do to present your underinsured motorist claim and exactly how much coverage you actually have available.  It will often depend on how much insurance the other driver carries.

Because underinsured motorist coverage is not required in a Missouri insurance policy, insurance companies are fairly free in how they word the policy.  As a result, there is a lot of litigation in the Missouri courts over which underinsured motorist policy provisions are fair and enforceable.  Therefore, it is highly recommended that you speak to an attorney before you attempt to settle your case with your underinsured motorist carrier.  In fact, it is highly recommended that you speak to an attorney before you settle with the other driver, if you think you have a potential underinsured motorist claim on your own policy.

Jill S. Bollwerk
Helping St. Louis area residents with personal injury, workers' compensation & insurance appeals/disputes.