I got rear-ended by an underinsured motorist. Here’s what it taught me

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I got rear-ended by an underinsured motorist. Here’s what it taught me

Imagine you’re four months pregnant and driving to the grocery when, all of a sudden, a minivan barrels your way at 60 miles per hour. Since you’re stopped at a light with a car in front of you, there’s nothing you can do except brace for the rear-end impact that is sure to come.

As the car slams into your vehicle, you turn slowly to the side to avoid hitting the car in front of you. The impact seems to last forever, yet you feel OK – except for the fact your face hit the steering wheel.

As the police arrive, you wonder about your unborn child. Is she OK? Then you begin to notice a strange feeling in your mouth. A broken crown? A dangling tooth?

A trip to the emergency room confirms the baby is safe and sound, completely untouched by the impact of the crash. Unfortunately, your teeth aren’t doing as great; one is cracked in half and another is dangling from your mouth. A third is cracked entirely up the back.

That one time I got hit by an underinsured driver

This is exactly what happened to me several years ago. While I’ll always be grateful my child wasn’t hurt, the ordeal that followed wasn’t pleasant. Since the teeth that suffered damage in the crash were the three most prominent, I had to get them fixed and the “fix” wasn’t cheap.

Nearly $18,000 and two years in dental work later, I had completed dental implants and beautiful veneers to match my smile. But that was after multiple oral surgeries, some of which were extremely painful because I couldn’t be properly medicated due to my pregnancy. My car suffered some major cosmetic damage as well, but that was easy to fix with some basic, albeit expensive, bodywork.

The real shock came when I found out the driver who hit me was drastically underinsured. They carried our state’s minimum level of coverage, which is $25,000 for bodily injury per person with a maximum of $50,000 and $10,000 in damage to personal property.

Considering the fact my auto repairs wound up costing more than $8,000, my emergency room visit with ultrasound was $3,000, and my dental work was nearly $18,000, this was going to be a problem.

What about pain and suffering? What about compensation for the time I spent enduring six dental surgeries? Not to mention the fact that, when the ordeal first started, I had no idea how much my bills would be. Would I have to sue the person who hit me for personal damages?

My car insurance saves the day

While the health of the baby was first on my mind, I started digging into my own auto insurance policy. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to remember and confirm that I had a extremely comprehensive coverage.

Not only did I have quality auto insurance coverage in case I caused an accident, but I also had underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage with a high limit and personal insurance protection (PIP) to cover medical expenses. If these terms are new to you, here’s a quick overview of the major types of car insurance:

  • Liability insurance: Covers bodily injury (BI) or property damage (PD) you cause to someone else in an accident.
  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP): Covers medical expenses and lost wages regardless of legal liability.
  • Collision and Comprehensive coverage: Collision covers property damage to your car in an accident you caused; comprehensive covers your car from mostly everything else, like theft or vandalism.
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: Covers BI and PD if expenses exceed the coverage limits of the driver who caused the accident. You can find a full breakdown of how car insurance works here.

Within the underinsured/uninsured component of my policy, I had bodily injury coverage for up to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident along with property damage coverage up to $25,000. My PIP coverage was also good for up to $100,000 in medical payments, including dental.

I was so relieved to find my auto coverage was more than sufficient, and I was also happy with the help I received from my carrier. While there were a ton of back and forth phone calls and some snafus and stressful moments, I managed to get all of my dental and medical bills covered through PIP. My carrier also worked with the insurance firm of the driver who hit me to ensure my car was fixed and that I had access to a rental car during the process.

After the accident: lessons learned

In the end, my baby was fine and I got a beautiful new set of dental veneers and implants. I was also compensated for my pain and suffering, as well as for the time I spent enduring multiple surgeries. But I learned several valuable lessons about insurance and why having the right amount of coverage is so important, too.

For starters, liability is real. The fact that the driver who hit me was underinsured left them vulnerable in more than one way. Because their coverage wasn’t sufficient, I had the right to sue personally to cover my charges. I didn’t have to go that route because I had plenty of coverage on my own, but I could have.

This made me think a lot about my own situation. Why if I hit someone with my car and my own insurance limits were exceeded paying the claim? Would someone sue me?

Shortly after this incident, my husband and I purchased our own $1 million umbrella policy. That way, we were covered for amounts above and beyond what our traditional insurance policies listed.

And, no matter how cheap state minimum coverage is, I am now keenly aware of the importance of carrying higher liability and medical limits on my own auto insurance, including underinsured and insured motorist coverage. Even if you’re a safe driver, you can’t control other drivers on the road.

Car insurance rates are affected by a variety of factors, including age, zip code and driving record, but shopping around can still help you save. You can go here to compare car insurance quotes across some leading insurers.

Image: NI QIN