What Happens When Car Accident Claim Exceeds Insurance Limits?

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Car accidents can be stressful, especially when dealing with insurance claims. One of the most challenging situations is when the cost of damages or injuries from an accident exceeds your insurance policy limits. Let’s break down what happens and what options you have if you find yourself in this situation.

Understanding Insurance Limits with Real-Life Examples

Insurance limits are the maximum amounts your insurance company will pay for a covered claim. Here’s how they typically work:

  • Bodily Injury Liability Limit Per Person: This is the maximum amount your insurer will pay for one person’s injuries in an accident. For example, if your limit is $50,000 and the injured person’s medical bills are $60,000, your insurance will cover up to $50,000, leaving you responsible for the remaining $10,000. In real life, this could be someone with severe injuries requiring surgery, hospital stays, and ongoing physical therapy.
  • Bodily Injury Liability Limit Per Accident: This is the total maximum amount your insurer will pay for all injuries in one accident. Suppose your limit is $100,000, and three people are injured with total medical costs of $120,000. Your insurance will cover up to $100,000, and you’ll be responsible for the extra $20,000. Imagine an accident where multiple passengers in both vehicles sustain significant injuries, each needing emergency medical attention and subsequent care.
  • Property Damage Liability Limit: This is the maximum amount your insurer will pay for damage to other people’s property. If your limit is $25,000 and you cause $30,000 worth of damage to another person’s car, your insurance will cover up to $25,000, leaving you to pay the remaining $5,000. This could happen if you rear-end a luxury car or cause a multi-vehicle pile-up.

What to Do When Car Accident Costs Exceed Your Insurance Limits

If the costs of an accident exceeds your insurance limits, you’ll need to handle the remaining amount. Here’s what happens:

  1. Insurance Payout: Your insurance company will pay up to your policy limits for the damages and injuries. This is the first step where your insurer evaluates the claims and disburses the maximum allowable amount under your policy.
  2. You Pay the Difference: Any costs beyond these limits are your responsibility. For example, if your policy covers up to $50,000 in bodily injury per person, and the injured party’s medical bills total $70,000, you’ll need to pay the extra $20,000. This can involve liquidating savings or setting up payment plans.

Options for Covering Costs Beyond Insurance Limits

When faced with costs exceeding your insurance limits, consider these options:

  1. Out-of-Pocket Payment: You might need to pay the remaining amount out of your own pocket, which can be expensive. This might involve using personal savings, taking out a loan, or utilizing credit to cover the costs.
  2. Personal Assets: Creditors could seek compensation from your personal assets, like savings or property, if you can’t cover the costs. This could mean liens on your home or garnishment of your wages.
  3. Umbrella Insurance: If you have an umbrella policy, it can provide additional coverage beyond your standard policy limits. For example, if your car insurance covers up to $250,000 and you have an umbrella policy that adds $1 million in coverage, you’d be covered for more significant claims. This extra coverage can be invaluable in protecting your financial stability.
  4. Negotiation: You can sometimes negotiate a payment plan or settlement with the other party or their insurance company. This might involve agreeing to a structured payment plan or a reduced lump-sum payment that satisfies the outstanding balance.

Legal Implications When Car Accident Claims Exceed Insurance Limits

Exceeding your insurance limits can lead to legal challenges. The injured party might take legal action to recover the remaining costs, leading to potential lawsuits and further financial strain. It’s essential to consult with a legal professional to understand your options and protect your interests. Legal consequences can include court judgments, additional legal fees, and long-term financial obligations if a court rules against you.

Preventive Measures to Avoid Financial and Legal Troubles

To avoid the complications of exceeding your insurance limits, consider these preventive measures:

  • Review and Increase Your Limits: Regularly review your insurance policy and consider increasing your limits to ensure adequate coverage. This proactive step ensures that your coverage keeps pace with increasing medical costs and property values.
  • Add Umbrella Insurance: An umbrella policy can provide extra liability coverage, offering additional protection. This policy acts as an extra layer of security, especially if you have significant assets to protect.
  • Drive Safely: Adhering to traffic laws and practicing safe driving can reduce the likelihood of accidents and severe claims. Defensive driving courses and staying vigilant on the road can prevent accidents and costly claims.

Final Thoughts

Knowing what happens when a car accident claim exceeds your insurance limits is crucial. By understanding your options and taking preventive measures, you can protect yourself from financial and legal troubles. Regularly reviewing your insurance coverage and considering additional protection, such as umbrella insurance, can give you peace of mind and ensure you’re well-prepared for any unexpected events.

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