Underinsured Motorists and Protections Available to Louisiana Drivers

Louisiana law requires motorists to carry liability insurance on any automobile they own. This coverage pays for property damages or personal injury for which you may be legally responsible. Unfortunately, not everyone on the road has insurance. However, insurance companies have built in protection for drivers that are injured by an uninsured/underinsured motorist.

In 1999, Carol Tedeton was injured during her employment with an automobile service station. She was hit by a minor without adequate car insurance. To recover for her injuries, Carol argued that she was covered under the garage’s uninsured/underinsured motorist (“UM”) policy.

Under La. R.S. 22:1406(d), any person who enjoys the status of insured under a Louisiana motor vehicle liability policy which includes uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage enjoys coverage protection simply by reason of having sustained injury by an uninsured/underinsured motorist.

So who qualifies as an insured under either the liability or UM portions of a auto insurance policy?

Most policies, like the one in the Tedeton case, are separated into two sections: Liability and UM. Liability insurance protects the driver in the case of their own fault. Those considered “Insured” under this section typically include the policy holder while operating a “covered auto” and anyone using a covered auto with the policy holder’s permission.

A “covered auto” is a vehicle covered by the insurance policy and ordinarily designated by codes in the policy. In the case of Mrs. Tedeton, her employer’s policy listed codes “21-any auto” and “22-owned auto’s only”. To qualify as an insured under the liability portion of a policy, the driver must be operating a covered auto as defined in the policy.

Whereas liability insurance covers the driver’s own fault, UM insurance coverage pays benefits to you if your car is hit by a driver who has no insurance or too little insurance to pay for the full amount of your injuries. Qualified insureds under the UM section include the policy holder, any “family member of the policy holder”, or any individual occupying a covered auto.

“Occupying” means in, upon, getting in, on, out or off. To receive UM protection, you must be in, getting in, getting on, or getting out of a covered auto as listed in the liability section of the policy.

While each policy is different, the basic guidelines listed above can be helpful in determining who is covered under your policy. In a 2009 report by the Insurance Research Council, the number of uninsured drivers in Louisiana was 12%. That number is expected to rise as a result of the economic downturn. Because of this, it is very important that drivers understand the protection provided by their auto insurer so that they do not find themselves in a complex situation with little room to receive the financial resolution they deserve.