Massachusetts law requires that drivers have compulsory auto insurance coverage. Despite this requirement, there are a number of reasons why a Massachusetts car accident victim may be injured by a driver of an uninsured vehicle. For example, an auto is considered “uninsured” when the motor vehicle is stolen or when the accident was a hit-and-run. This category of “hit-and-run” automobiles is actually quite broad. “Hit” does not require contact, as Massachusetts courts have held that running another vehicle off the road without any vehicle-to-vehicle contact is enough to constitute a hit-and-run accident for purposes of this definition. Likewise, the definition of “run” is quite broad, and does not require that the person who caused the accident actually flee the scene. In one Massachusetts case, two drivers talked after the accident, but declined to exchange papers. When injuries surfaced days later, the claim was processed as though it had been a hit-and-run.
There are also scenarios when the vehicle that caused the accident was simply uninsured. An automobile might be uninsured if: the owner neglected to purchase insurance in the first place; if the insurance was cancelled for nonpayment; if the insurer became insolvent; or if the vehicle was registered in another state lacking compulsory insurance laws, such as New Hampshire or Vermont. In short, there are a number of reasons why uninsured motor vehicle accidents occur, and Massachusetts has coverage in place to ensure you don’t pay the costs of another’s negligence when they are uninsured.
This coverage is called uninsured motor vehicle coverage, or “UM coverage” for short. UM coverage is intended to benefit persons injured or killed as the result of the negligence of the operator of an uninsured motor vehicle. In Massachusetts, the compulsory minimum limits of UM coverage are $20,000/$40,000—the same at the compulsory minimum limits for bodily injury (BI) coverage. This $20,000/$40,000 figure means that $20,000 is the most the insurer will pay for the injuries to a single person injured in a covered accident, and $40,000 is the most the insurer will pay for the injuries claimed by two or more persons injured in a covered accident. An insured may elect to have higher UM coverage, and pay an additional premium, so long as the UM limits they choose do not exceed the coverage selected for BI.
Claims under UM covereage must be brought against the insurer in arbitration only. Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution where the parties agree to be bound by the decision of an arbitrator, or a third party who reviews the evidence and imposes a legally binding, out-of-court decision which will be enforceable in a court of law. The arbitrator decides both liability and damages.
UM benefits and closely related underinsured motor vehicle coverage (UIM) benefits are governed by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 175, Sections 113C and 113L. These provisions prohibit an insured from “stacking” insurance policy benefits. Stacking is where the injured party adds all available policies together to create a larger pool of coverage to satisfy his or her actual damages. As a result, claimants may recover UM and UIM coverage from a single source only.