If you are injured in an automobile accident by a careless underinsured driver, the uninsured motorist coverage in your own insurance policy may apply. But can you add to the limits of your underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage or "stack" if you own more than one vehicle? Generally, drivers cannot stack their UIM limits to increase their coverage even though they pay separate premiums on each car. The reason they are unsuccessful is because most auto insurance companies insert "anti-stacking" language in the policy. An example of an "anti-stacking" clause is as follows: "The limits of liability for each person for UIM coverage is our maximum limit for all damages arising out of bodily injury sustained by any one person in any one accident ... This is the most we will pay regardless of the number of: (1) Insured's; (2) claims made; (3) vehicles or premiums shown in the Declarations; or (4) vehicles involved in the accident."
A recent consolidated Illinois Supreme Court case about injured drivers, Hobbs v. Hartford Insurance Company, 214 Ill.2d 11, 823 N.E.2d 561 (2005), will illustrate why you should check your auto insurance policy on each car you own and make sure you have adequate coverage. In the first of the cases consolidated in Hobbs, the driver Lula Hobbs was injured in an accident caused by an underinsured driver with a policy limit of $50,000.00. However, her injuries and damages exceeded $200,000.00. At the time of the accident, she had UIM coverage on two cars insured by Hartford Insurance in the amount of $100,000 per person, $300,000 per occurrence.
Hartford sent her a check for $50,000.00 which was the difference between the $100,000.00 of UIM coverage under her policy and the $50,000.00 she received from the other driver. She argued that she should be allowed to stack the UIM coverage on both of her cars and recover $150,000.00 from Hartford.
The trial court and appellate courts ruled in her favor. The courts found the terms on the declaration page of the Hartford policy were inconsistent and contradicted the anti-stacking language, creating an ambiguity that must be interpreted in her favor to permit stacking. Unfortunately for her, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the appellate court and trial court and decided Hartford only had to pay her $50,000.00.
After examining the policy, the Illinois Supreme Court determined the anti-stacking language in the policy was not inconsistent and contradictory to the terms in the declaration page. In addition, the Court decided the anti-stacking clause in the Hartford policy unambiguously limited coverage to $100,000 per person, regardless of the number of vehicles or premiums shown on the declarations page. Therefore, the anti-stacking clause was enforced as written against Hobbs and reduced her recovery.
The lesson that can be learned from this case is the importance of checking each auto policy you own to make sure you have adequate coverage on each car in the event of an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver. Do not wait until after an accident like Mrs. Hobbs to find out whether you have full and adequate UIM coverage. Protect your family with additional coverage so, if needed, you will be fairly compensated and not have to pursue a difficult stacking case against your insurance company for additional coverage.
HOW MUCH COVERAGE IS ENOUGH?
In this day and age, if you are hospitalized and lose time from work, you can incur substantial economic damages. Where your budget allows, we strongly recommend you should have UM and UIM coverage of at least $250,000 per person, $500,000 per occurrence on each vehicle. The cost of the increase in coverage is relatively inexpensive.