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Illinois’ minimum mandatory auto insurance law requires minimum policy limits that are too low to provide any real protection or benefit to car accident victims. At present, the required minimums are $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident, and $15,000 for property damage. These limits are so low that the only effective way to protect your family to protect your family against financial disaster from a car accident is to buy as much underinsured motorist coverage as you can comfortably afford.

When the at-fault driver carries insurance for the state minimum, the most that his insurance carrier will have to pay for a car crash he causes is $20,000 to any person injured or killed in the accident, with of $40,000 maximum for any single accident, regardless of the number of people injured or killed. For example, if there is a car accident in which four people are injured, then those four will have to divide the $40,000 between them, with a maximum of $20,000 going to any one accident victim.

These limits are inadequate to cover the damages that suffered by accident victims in all but the most minor accidents. Anytime that there are significant injuries or wrongful death, coverage for the state minimum does falls far short of providing meaningful compensation to accident victims. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that that often the worst drivers, who cause the most serious car accidents, carry insurance for the state minimum.

It is true that if you file a lawsuit, you can pursue the case to verdict and then collect the other driver’s personal assets. However, to get to that point, you have to:

• File the lawsuit
• Do all of the pre-trial investigation
• Try the case to verdict
• Obtain a favorable judgment

If this is going to result in additional monetary recovery, the defendant must both:

• Have assets; AND
• Not declare bankruptcy once you start seizing assets.

This is a course that few wish to follow. Most car accident victims simply want to be able to reach a fair settlement for their injuries.

However, the harsh reality is that trying to collect the personal assets of an at-fault driver is often a time-wasting money loser. Even the simplest car accident case takes at least 18 months from the time a lawsuit is filed to reach trial, and the wait for trial can often stretch to two and a half or three years. Besides the time involved, the other factor to consider is the actual monetary cost of taking a case to trial. The cost of taking even a simple auto accident to trial can easily run $3,000 – $5,000, and can be much higher if there are issues which require an expert witness. Additionally, most simple car accident cases take a minimum of two full days in court, with more complex cases often running much longer.

When posed with the choice of accepting a settlement for the state minimum limits, most people make the decision to settle their cases – even when the policy limits do not provide them with full compensation. This is one reason why many cases that result in large jury verdicts you read about in the newspaper come against companies that either have large insurance policies or sufficient assets to pay the judgment.

To protect you and your family against the financial consequences of a car accident with a driver who has insurance for the state minimum or some other inadequate amount, the best thing you can do is to carry large amounts of underinsured motorist coverage on your own car insurance policy. Underinsured motorist coverage compensates you and your family when you are involved in an accident with a driver who does not have adequate insurance coverage for the injuries, and you carry insurance with higher policy limits. When that happens, your insurance company will pay the difference between the other driver’s insurance coverage and your underinsured policy limits.

That can be a lot to digest, so an example may help:

Let’s assume that you are rear-ended by a driver who carries insurance for the state minimum ($20,000) and you carry underinsured policy limits of $100,000. We’ll also assume that you sustain $95,000 in damages. In that case, the at-fault driver’s insurer would pay you the $20,000 policy limits, and your carrier would pay you $75,000 in damages, so you would get a total of $95,000 in compensation for your injuries.

This coverage is of course subject to your policy limits, so if you sustained $150,000 in damages, the most you could ever receive in underinsured motorist benefits is $80,000, for a total of $100,000 in compensation. That would match your own policy limit.

Underinsured motorist claim are complex. Failing to properly follow the steps required to proceed may result in the loss of your claim. Since these claims that involve significant injury or death, we strongly recommend hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer to assist you with your claim.


  1. Gravatar for Bret Hanna

    This is a very important lesson, one that was learned the hard way by a very experienced attorney that I know. I represented his wife who was significantly injured when a driver turned left in front of her. Fortunately, the at-fault driver had decent liability coverage over the state minimum, but it was not enough to fully compensate my client for her injuries. When I inquired about underinsured coverage that may be available, the question caught my client and her husband by surprise. Although well insured if one of them caused an accident, they only carried the state minimum for underinsured coverage ($10,000 in Utah - this is automatic unless you specifically reject it or select higher coverage). We collected what was available and moved on. They have since corrected the problem but if you don't know that you are well protected, check your policy declarations page or call your insurance agent, or both. The same goes for uninsured coverage which kicks in if the person that causes an accident has no insurance rather than too little (which happens all too often). These coverages are quite inexpensive and taking your own steps to protect you and your loved ones, rather than relying on others to have decent coverages, can make all the difference.

  2. Hopefully many people will heed this great advice, in Minnesota UM is linked to UIM, it is vital in these economic times that you have enough of both. Unfortunately, as you and Bret point out it's after the fact that so many people learn this lesson.

  3. Barry: I missed this and just wrote a similar post. (Great minds think alike?) This is extemely valuable information. It amazes me the lengths people will go to to protect themselves from being sued. These same people ignore coverages and protections for themselves in situations where they are seriously hurt by someone with no or inadequate coverage. People: Protect yourself out there! Barry: Thanks for this very important "heads up".

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