Kansas City Underinsured Motorist

Are you the type of person who always tries to think ahead and for some reason always manages to forget something?  Or are you the type of person that always tries to be prepared for any and all situations, and yet something escapes yours preparation plans.  Maybe you’re the type that adheres to the “wait and see what happens” philosophy.  Whatever it is, many of you will want to kick yourself when a car accident happens.

Imagine you are in your car, and it’s worth $45,000.  You’re driving along a road when an oncoming car swerves and slams into you head-on.  The front of your vehicle is completely smashed.  Property damage aside, you don’t feel so well.  After property damage is assessed and medical costs rendered, your total damages is $50,000.  The other driver, who was texting while driving, veered off onto the side, over-corrected his steering and then swerved into your lane, has insurance, but it’s not enough to cover all your damages.  Who’s going to pay?  Likely, the remaining amount owed will come out of your own pocket.  It’s this moment you will want to kick yourself for failing purchase underinsured coverage to protect you and your family.   If you had purchased underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage, then your insurance would have paid the difference.

What is underinsured motorist coverage in Missouri?

As you can infer from above, underinsured motorist insurance helps protect drivers and their families in situations where the at-fault party for an accident does not have enough insurance coverage to pay for all the damages.  A lot of drivers only carry the minimum required auto insurance coverage, but many times this amount does not cover the actual and total economic and non-economic costs.  Thus, though a driver who is liable for the costs (medical, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.) carries the required amount of insurance according to Missouri regulations, it simply may not be enough to cover all costs.

It is at this point when underinsured coverage policies are helpful.  Basically, you purchase the underinsured coverage through your own auto insurance.  As such, if you need more coverage than what the at-fault party is able to provide, you would file a first-party claim with your insurance to invoke the uninsured coverage policy.  The difference of the unpaid damages would be covered by your uninsured coverage so long as you purchased enough.  For instance, if you have $50,000 in total damages, and the at-fault party’s insurance covered $40,000 of it, you need an additional $10,000 or else risk paying the $10,000 yourself.  If you purchased underinsured coverage in the amount of $25,000, then you would have access to $10,000 to cover the remainder of the damages.

Who can make a claim under an underinsured motorist coverage policy?

Only the insured can file a first-party claim with its insurance company to benefit from the underinsured motorist coverage policy.  Insured, however, usually – but check your policy – includes:

  • The individual named in the policy and his or her spouse if a resident of the same household;
  • Relative(s) of the named policy-holder if relative(s) is resident(s) of the same household;
  • Any other person if occupying an insured automobile;
  • Any person who is entitled to recover damages because he or she sustained bodily injury by an insured, which is either the policy holder or relative if a resident of the same household.

Can my insurance company in Missouri deny my underinsured motorist coverage claim?

It can.  But it depends.  There is no specific Missouri statute that governs or regulates underinsured coverage, so it is highly dependent on the circumstances of the case and the specific policy that is associated with the case.  Generally speaking, though, auto insurance is a contract between you and the company.  If it breaches the contract by failing to honor the terms of the agreement, you can sue the auto insurance company.

In a lawsuit 4 years ago, Fanning v. Progressive Northwestern Insurance Company, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Stanley Fanning, who sued Progressive Northwestern Insurance Company for failing to fulfill the terms of the contract.  Fanning had underinsured insurance coverage for his motorcycle.  While riding it one day, he was in an accident and seriously injured.  The other driver was the at-fault party and caused the accident.  The negligent driver’s insurance company paid $50,000, which was the maximum coverage the negligent driver had.  But the amount was not enough to cover all of Fanning’s expenses.

Fanning had underinsured motorist coverage with limits of $50,000, so he filed a claim with his insurance company.  Progressive Northwestern denied the claim.  Progressive Northwestern argued that, according to the terms of the policy, the other driver was not underinsured because the other driver’s limits were the same as the underinsured coverage.

The Missouri Court of Appeals disagreed.  It claimed the policy was ambiguous and could be read to mean Fanning’s $50,000 underinsured coverage limit was in excess of the $50,000 insurance payment provided by the negligent driver’s insurance policy.  The Missouri Court of Appeals held that Fanning could, therefore, collect from his underinsured policy (up to the $50,000 limit) the difference of the incurred damages paid by the negligent driver’s insurance and the remaining balance.

It is, therefore, important that you know you policy.  It seems sometimes insurance companies write policies that are purposefully confusing and/or vague so that the coverage can be interpreted by them in ways that is most suitable for them when the time comes.  Fortunately for you, attorneys can help you make sure insurance companies are providing what they are supposed to or else risk going to court to have a judge decide.

Contact Krause & Kinsman Today

If you’ve been in a car accident in Kansas City, Missouri, and the at-fault driver’s policy is not enough to cover your damages, you need legal assistance.  At Krause & Kinsman, our experienced Kansas City auto accident legal team knows how to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding your accident.  We know how to identify and explain all options to you.  We act aggressively so that you will receive the compensation you rightfully deserve according to Missouri law.

Adam Krause is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from  the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Adam Krause has made a career of taking complicated litigation and presenting it in the most elementary terms for a jury of your peers to understand. Learn more about his experience here.

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