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Automobile Insurance: Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage

West Virginia's financial responsibility statute is designed to set minimum compulsory coverages to which all insurance policies issued on motor vehicles are subject. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co., 181 W. Va. 609, 383 S.E.2d 791 (1989). In West Virginia, "Proof of financial responsibility" means proof of ability to respond in 

damages for liability, on account of accident occurring subsequent to the effective date of the proof, arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle, trailer or semitrailer." To meet the requirements of West Virginia's compulsory automobile insurance laws, drivers must have liability and uninsured motorist coverage. 

On January 1, 2016, minimum liability limits for bodily injury increased from $20,000 to $25,000 per person and from $40,000 to $50,000 per accident, while minimum liability limits for property damage rose from $10,000 to $25,000. W. Va. Code §17D‑4‑2(b). West Virginia Code § 33‑6‑31(b) is the West Virginia statute which contains the requirement that drivers carry uninsured motorist coverage. It provides that every automobile liability insurance policy issued or delivered in West Virginia contain uninsured motorist coverage with minimum limits of coverage as set forth in W. Va. Code §17D‑4‑2(b).

Additionally, each West Virginia automobile insurance policy must offer maximum limits of uninsured motorist coverage, specifically $100,000 for bodily injury per person, $300,000 per accident, and $50,000 for property damage. Each automobile insurance policy must also offer an option for both uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage up to the dollar limits of the liability insurance purchased by the insured. Bias v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 179 W. Va. 125, 126, 365 S.E.2d 789, 790 (1987). An offer for underinsured coverage must state in definite, intelligible, and specific terms, the nature, limits, and costs of the coverage. Any failure by the carrier to satisfy this requirement results in coverage being read into the policy by operation of law.

The West Virginia Insurance Commissioner prescribes the form for making offers of optional uninsured and underinsured coverages. W. Va. Code §33-6-31(d). "[A] knowing and intelligent rejection of optional uninsured and underinsured motorists' coverages by any named insured under an insurance policy creates a presumption that all named insureds under the policy received an effective offer of the optional coverages and that such person exercised a knowing and intelligent rejection of such offer. The named insured's rejection is binding on all persons insured under the policy." Burrows v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 215 W. Va. 668, 600 S.E.2d 565 (2004).

Stacking UM/UIM coverages means that an insured may collect from more than one automobile insurance policy for injuries and property damage. While stacking policies is allowed in West Virginia, our courts have held that anti-stacking provisions in a policy which disallow an insured from stacking both uninsured and underinsured coverages are enforceable as long as they do not violate a statute or public policy. Mitchell v. Federal Kemper Ins. Co., 204 W. Va. 543, 514 S.E.2d 393 (1998).

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident in and around Huntington, or anywhere in West Virginia, and have questions regarding the scope and limits of your coverage under your automobile insurance policy, please call Amy Crossan, an expert in personal injury law, for a consultation at 304.523.8451.

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