You Should Know: Underinsured Coverage in Ohio vs West Virginia

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Jim Leach, LC – Unhappy Golfing

Living in the Mid-Ohio Valley gives us a unique perspective on many things, several of which we tend to take for granted.  One such thing is the fact that many of our lives are spread near-equally across two entirely different states; if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you travel on both sides of The Mighty Ohio weekly, if not daily.  For us, crossing the bridge from Marietta to Williamstown is just a fact of life, an everyday occurrence no more noteworthy than your morning cup of coffee.  For most of the country, leaving the state is a capital-”B” Big Deal, something that is done with intent and purpose; an event in and of itself.  For someone living in Columbus, interstate travel is done for vacation, for a business meeting, for a family visit.  For someone living in Parkersburg, interstate travel is done because the Belpre Taco Bell is closer than the Vienna one.

Being so desensitized to crossing borders can almost make us forget that they exist, but the fact remains that West Virginia and Ohio are very different places in many ways, some of which you’re probably aware of, many of which you probably aren’t.  For example, most of us know that West Virginia requires annual inspections for all cars registered in the state, while Ohio doesn’t (and if you didn’t know that – surprise! You do now).  But did you know that your insurance coverage works differently in West Virginia than in Ohio?

There are several large differences between personal injury claims in West Virginia and in Ohio, but perhaps the biggest comes in the form of Uninsured and Underinsured coverage.  

In West Virginia, these are two separate types of coverage – Uninsured coverage, which you are required by law to carry, is available if you are in a wreck caused by an uninsured driver.  Underinsured coverage is available if you are in a wreck caused by a driver who does not have sufficient liability coverage to fully compensate you for your injuries. West Virginia requires the stacking of benefits to compensate you to the extent of your injuries under the underinsured motorist policies up to the policy limits. 

Here are a couple scenarios to illustrate how this plays out:

You, a responsible citizen of the great state of West Virginia, are carefully driving along, minding the rules of the road and going exactly 0mph over the speed limit.  You pass through the green lights, slow down at the yellows, and stop at the reds.  As you approach one such green light, Reckless Robert, in a moment of bull-like misjudgment, charges directly through his red light and into your passenger door.

This wreck was the final straw that pushed you to needing a lumbar fusion which, as it turns out, is pretty expensive.  After quickly racking up a cool $40,000 of medical bills, you learn that Reckless Robert, of course, was only carrying the state minimum liability coverage of $25,000.

This is where underinsured coverage comes into play.  If you didn’t opt for the optional underinsured coverage, then that $25,000 is the only money available – you can try to haggle down your medical bills and other expenses but at the end of the day, there’s no more money available.  Sure, you may have $100,000 of uninsured coverage on your policy, but since the driver did have insurance, that coverage isn’t available to you, even though the at fault driver didn’t have enough coverage to even wipe out your medical bills.  

If you did opt for underinsured coverage, though, then you’re in a much better position.  For example, let’s say you have $50,000 of underinsured coverage; this means that after that $25,000 of liability coverage is exhausted, there’s still another $50,000 on top of that to resolve your claim, meaning the total amount of coverage available is $75,000.  That doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get the full $75,000, of course, and the insurance companies will fight you tooth & nail to avoid fully compensating you, but you’re not out of the fight before it’s even begun. 

In Ohio, however, things work a bit differently.  In Ohio, there is no difference between Un- and Underinsured coverage, they simply exist as one item on your policy.  Underinsurance is not excess insurance, and you are only entitled to recover an amount that you would receive if the at fault driver was uninsured. Your uninsured coverage automatically acts as underinsured coverage, but is offset from any benefits you previously received from the liability coverage available. Underinsured motorist policies in Ohio thus prohibit stacking. Which may sound confusing, but it’s really pretty straightforward: if the person who hits you only has $25,000 of coverage, and you have $50,000 of underinsured coverage, then that initial $25k of liability coverage is offset from your coverage and there is a total of $50,000 available to settle your claim – $25,000 from the At Fault, and $25,000 from your policy.  You can see how this is substantially less consumer-friendly than West Virginia’s laws – in this example, a full half of your underinsured coverage is unavailable to you.

So, what can you do about this?  Unless you’re willing to uproot and move to West Virginia, not a whole lot, but you should at least be aware of the regulations that are working against you and put yourself in the best position accordingly.  And that means carrying sufficient underinsured coverage to fully compensate yourself for any injuries.  What that amount may be is up to you, but don’t sell yourself short: nobody wants to find themselves sitting on $80,000 of medical bills, but it’s an unfortunate reality that a large number of people find themselves in.  

Don’t put your future in someone else’s hands – whether you’re in Ohio or West Virginia, make sure you know what’s available to you and make sure you have enough coverage to make a difference when you need it.