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How to Read your Auto Insurance Policy

Many people treat auto insurance as an either-or commodity; either you have it and are fully covered or you don’t and are completely vulnerable. In reality, auto insurance policies vary widely in their coverage, limits and exemptions from person to person and vehicle to vehicle.

It is important to know what your policy covers so that if you ever find yourself in an accident, you know exactly what benefits you are entitled to under the policy.

So how do you figure out what your policy covers?

First, let’s review the different types of coverage in your policy.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Personal injury protection, or PIP, covers you, your passengers, and other pedestrians and bicyclists in an accident, no matter who is responsible. It covers both medical bills and lost wages due to an injury. In Washington State, insurers must offer PIP coverage, and you are automatically given PIP coverage unless you explicitly ask to waive the coverage by writing your insurer.

Liability Coverage

Liability coverage applies when you are found at fault for an accident and resulting damages. It covers both medical costs as well as property damage caused by an accident. This coverage is important because it helps shield your personal assets from legal action if you are at fault.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM)

Underinsured Motorist Coverage, or UIM, covers you if you get in an accident with a driver who is uninsured. It covers you, your immediate family and passengers in your car who are injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver. It also applies if you or your family are injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver while walking as a pedestrian or riding a bike.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage insures your vehicle against damage, no matter who is responsible for the accident. It covers necessary repairs or replacement of a damaged vehicle. This coverage includes a deductible that must be met before your insurer will begin paying benefits.

Comprehensive Coverage

Comprehensive coverage pays for damage caused by a number of other circumstances besides an accident, such as theft, vandalism or a fire. Like collision coverage, this type of policy typically includes a deductible.

So now that you know what your insurance covers how do you know who is covered?  More importantly, who should be on your policy?

The answer boils down to the distinction between “named” and “other” insureds. Named insureds are individuals who are explicitly named as insured under the policy. For a family, this typically means both spouses, who are named on the policy and covered. The policy language will also extend coverage to other individuals not explicitly named, usually including family members of the named insureds. However, a cohabitating girlfriend or boyfriend is typically not covered, and thus, will have to be added to the policy to give them coverage.

So now you have a good grip on what your insurance should cover. Here are some important steps to take after an accident to put yourself in the best position to make a claim on your policy.

  1. Get medical treatment immediately. The longer you wait, the more likely the insurance company will fight your claim, arguing your injuries are not as severe as you say.
  2. Take photos of the scene and both vehicles before moving them, unless the vehicles’ positions pose an immediate danger to traffic. Wait to move vehicles until police arrive so that they can note the positions of the vehicles in their report.
  3. Collect contact information from witnesses who saw the accident. These individuals can help prove your account of what happened if there is a dispute later.
  4. Request a police report, especially if the other driver is at fault. This will help prove what happened, in the absence of any witnesses or an admission of guilt by the other driver.
  5. Report your injury to the police. This will ensure that your injury is part of the police report and give the insurance adjuster more confidence that your injuries were caused by the accident.
  6. Talk to an attorney if you have a serious injury. An attorney can help advise you on improving the strength of your claim with the insurance company and help you assess whether a settlement offer is fair or not.
  7. Alert your insurance company immediately and tell them exactly what happened. Keep in mind that in Washington State, there is a time limit on claims, also known at the statute of limitations. Usually, this is three years from the date of the accident. If you have injuries and wish to open a PIP claim, you may have to sign a medical authorization form giving your insurer permission to look at your medical records
  8. Do not give a statement to the other drivers’ insurance company, or sign medical authorizations for them, without speaking to an attorney first.

If you have been injured in an accident, please contact us for a free consultation. We can help deal with your insurance company and make sure you receive the full benefits as required by your insurance policy.