After a serious car crash, it’s important to understand all the sources of insurance coverage available to pay your claim. Without help from an experienced personal injury lawyer, you might lose valuable compensation. To help make things simpler for you, this article explains the basics of Virginia auto insurance law.
Understanding Your Auto Liability Coverage
Insurance laws vary from state to state. Before you file insurance claims, you and your personal injury lawyer must examine several resources, including Virginia’s auto insurance statutes, policy documents, and model policies adopted by the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC). This review can help you understand the extent of your insurance coverage.
After a serious car crash, you must gather the insurance policies involved in your claim. This might include the negligent driver’s liability policy and your medical expense coverage, loss of income, and uninsured and underinsured motorist policies.
Every driver has different levels of coverage. While the state requires certain minimum levels of coverage, responsible drivers sometimes purchase policies with higher limits. You must understand exactly what the policies cover—and what they do not.
Auto Insurance Statutes
However, these policies aren’t the only source of coverage information. For example, Virginia mandates certain insurance coverages by statute. If your policy reduces a state-mandated coverage, the statute trumps the policy.
SCC Model Insurance Policies
The SCC also adopts specific policy language in the form of a model policy. Any Virginia family or personal auto insurance policy must strictly conform to the language of its model policy. If an insurance company fails to conform its policy to the standard form, courts will assume that the policy provides at least the coverage required by the standard form.
Common Types of Insurance Involved in a Car Accident Claim
Many Virginia car crash claims involve multiple types of insurance. Depending on your circumstances, you might have claims involving liability insurance, medical expense coverage, and uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
Liability insurance is fault-based and should pay the bodily injury and property damages an insured causes in an auto accident. In other words, if you cause a car accident and injure another person, your auto insurance policy should provide coverage up to your liability limits.
Anyone who purchases liability insurance in Virginia must have at least 25/50/20 coverage. This means they must have a minimum of:
- $25,000 coverage per person for personal injuries arising out of an accident, subject to a $50,000 limit regardless of the number of injured claimants
- A minimum of $20,000 for property damage.
However, people with DUI-related convictions in the three years before getting a driver’s license must maintain minimum limits of 50/100/40.
Sometimes claims involve multiple liability policies. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you stack all the applicable liability policies and search for umbrella policies that might increase your coverage. Except for optional, no-fault medical payments coverage, your auto insurance policy will not cover your own losses if you caused the crash.
Unfortunately, insurance companies often dispute liability, argue that injuries weren’t caused by the crash, deny coverage to the insured, or make low-ball settlement offers. This is why it is in your best interest to consult an experienced car accident lawyer as soon after a crash as possible. A lawyer may help you protect your rights and understand your claim’s full value.
Medical Expense and Loss of Income Coverage
If you suffer injuries in a collision, you should seek medical attention immediately. Your health should be your first priority and prompt medical care might help you heal more quickly. It will also provide necessary documentation connecting your injuries to the crash. The medical records from immediately after the crash are an important part of a personal injury claim.
Medical expense and loss of income coverages are “no-fault” coverages in Virginia. Even if you are at fault in an accident, you can file a medical expense claim.
When you purchase medical expense insurance, it should cover:
- People occupying the insured motor vehicle
- The named insured while he or she is inside or exiting a motor vehicle. It also covers the insured if he or she after a pedestrian-car or bicycle-car crash.
A medical expense policy covers all your reasonable and necessary medical expenses (including hospital, physical therapy, and other bills) for up to three years. While Virginia law requires they cover up to $2,000 per person, you can purchase a medical expense policy with higher limits.
Virginia law also lets you stack medical expense coverage for each vehicle listed on the auto policy, up to a limit of four vehicles. For example, suppose you have a policy with medical expense limits of $4,000 that lists four vehicles. After an accident, you have $20,000 in reasonable and necessary medical bills. The policy would pay $16,000 of your total bills ($4,000 x 4 vehicles = $16,000).
Loss of income coverage pays up to $100 per week in lost income until you can return to work.
Because medical expense coverage is relatively inexpensive and offers significant benefits, we encourage all of our clients to purchase the highest amount of med expense coverage possible. If you request medical expense coverage or loss of income coverage, the insurance company must sell it to you. Unfortunately, many agents don’t mention these optional coverages because they have relatively low premiums and aren’t particularly profitable for the companies.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
It is important to look to uninsured (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage when a negligent driver either lacks or has inadequate liability coverage. Under Virginia law, drivers do not have to purchase automobile insurance coverage. Instead, they can forgo auto coverage if they pay a $500 annual fee to the Virginia DMV. Approximately 1 in 10 Virginia drivers carry no insurance. In addition, insurance companies sometimes insure out-of-state drivers uninsured if they have a minimum coverage policy that is less than $25,000.
Your auto insurance policy must include UM/UIM coverage if you live in Virginia or primarily garage or use your vehicle in the state. However, your auto policy follows you wherever you go and also should cover out-of-state UI/UIM claims.
The law requires a minimum of 25/50/20 in UM/UIM coverage. While this is the state-mandated minimum, it’s usually wise to purchase more than the minimum amount of UM/UIM coverage. In a crash involving even moderate injuries and medical bills, $25,000 in coverage is not likely going to be enough to fairly compensate you.
You calculate the amount of available UIM by subtracting the amount of the total liability coverage from your total UIM coverage. For example, suppose you have $500,000 in UIM coverage and suffer catastrophic injuries in a crash caused by a driver with only $25,000 in liability coverage. The amount of available UIM coverage under the insured’s policy would be $475,000. (UIM coverage – liability coverage; $500,000 – $25,000 = $475,000). If you need help calculating your available UIM or other coverage, contact Phelan Petty for a consultation.
RELATED ARTICLE: Why an Attorney Investigation Matters for Your Truck Accident Case
Phelan Petty: Dedicated Lawyers Serving Virginia Car Accident Victims
It is impossible to cover all of the intricacies of Virginia auto insurance coverage law in this blog. Phelan Petty’s car accident team specializes in complicated cases involving serious injuries. We guide our clients through their various insurance claims and fight to get them fair compensation. And because we focus on handling a small number of complex cases, we can dedicate more time and resources to the clients who need our help the most.
Blincoe, L. J., Miller, T. R., Zaloshnja, E., & Lawrence, B. A. (2015, May). The economic and societal impact of motor vehicle crashes, 2010 (Revised) (Report No. DOT HS 812 013). Washington, D.C.: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812013.
Facts + statistics: uninsured motorists. (2017, August 1). Insurance Information Institute. Retrieved from https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-uninsured-motorists.
Va. Code §38.2-2204.
Va. Code §46.2-472.
Va. Code §38.2-2201.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.