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What is an uninsured motorist claim?

March 13, 2017

Under Oklahoma law, automobile liability insurance carriers must offer uninsured motorist coverage (commonly referred to as “UM”).  UM coverage provides benefits for personal injuries sustained by an insured arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle and the individual at fault is uninsured or underinsured.  Breaking down the past sentence may help clarify why UM is unique and important: 

1)    UM applies to an “insured”, who will be defined by the terms of the insurance policy.  Generally speaking, insureds include individuals who are:

  1. Specifically identified by name as an insured under a policy (commonly referred to as a named insured);
  2. A household member of a named insured, such as a spouse or dependent; and
  3. An individual “occupying” an insured vehicle at the time of the accident.  Courts have interpreted the term “occupying” broadly, and have found that an individual was “occupying” a vehicle at the time of an accident even though the individual was not literally inside the vehicle at the time of the accident.

2)    Oklahoma statute states that UM applies to accidents arising out of the “ownership, maintenance, or use” of a vehicle. In other words, UM coverage is not limited to motor vehicle collisions.  For example, a pedestrian who is walking down the street and hit by a vehicle would have a claim for UM benefits if he is an insured under a policy. 

3)    UM applies where an individual at fault for an accident is either uninsured or underinsured.  A recent survey indicated that 26% of drivers in Oklahoma have no insurance and are “uninsured.”  This means in an accident involving two vehicles, there’s a 50% chance one of the vehicles will not have insurance.  But perhaps just as importantly, many more drivers are carrying the state minimum for liability coverage of $25,000.  In many instances, this “minimum” coverage will not be adequate to compensate an injured party for his or her damages (medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering), and the at-fault driver will be “underinsured.”

A UM claim is a claim for benefits owed under UM coverage. In Oklahoma, UM coverage can be quite complicated – evidenced by the significant body of court decisions addressing various issues. Additionally, Oklahoma law regarding UM coverage is significantly different than the law in other states, and many insurance adjusters are not familiar with important distinctions.  These distinctions can have significant financial consequences for an insured.  In many instances, these benefits may not be realized without an attorney with knowledge and experience dealing with UM law in Oklahoma.  Attorneys at Schaffer Herring PLLC regularly represent clients in making UM claims.