What is underinsured motorist coverage and what does it mean?

In our practice of representing accident victims and their families in personal injury and wrongful death cases, we have seen many situations where the “at-fault” driver does not carry enough liability coverage to fully compensate our clients or their families for the injuries or deaths suffered. In those cases, the “at-fault” driver is considered “underinsured” or, stated another way, a gap exists between the amount of money available to fairly resolve the case and the amount of money available from the at-fault insurance company.

Under these circumstances, the injured party or surviving family members would look to their own policy of automobile insurance coverage to determine whether an additional recovery of money can be made.  This is referred to as an “underinsured motorist coverage” claim.  There are several prohibitions and requirements which must be met in order to secure this type of coverage, and a failure to meet these requirements in a proper order may act to disqualify an injured person from making an underinsured motorist personal injury or wrongful death claim.

Underinsured coverage laws between North Dakota and Minnesota significantly differ, and it would be impossible to address every situation in this article. Generally, however, the starting point is understanding the amount of liability coverage required by each State.

In North Dakota, the law requires a minimum of $25,000 in liability coverage.  In Minnesota, the minimum is $30,000. There is no prohibition on a citizen of either State from purchasing additional liability coverage, and we would encourage everyone to do so.

Generally, in North Dakota, to be eligible to seek underinsured motorist coverage, two things must happen: (1) You must exhaust the liability coverage amount, and (2) The amount of underinsured motorist coverage must be greater than the at-fault party’s liability coverage. If the amount of liability coverage available from the other party equals your own underinsured motorist coverage, you generally would have no claim. A tie does not go to the runner in North Dakota.

In Minnesota things are very different. Minnesota does not require that you exhaust the at-fault party’s liability coverage, and it does not require that the amount of underinsured motorist coverage be greater than the at-fault party’s liability coverage. There are several other considerations to keep in mind when making this type of claim, but Minnesota’s coverage is more “consumer friendly” than that of North Dakota.

The interaction between the liability coverage and underinsured coverage in both States can also be impacted by the number of people injured or killed in an accident.  Written notice to the underinsured carrier must be given before you accept and release the at-fault party in exchange for payment of its liability coverage.

Fair to say, when dealing with underinsured motorist coverage, there is a lot to keep in mind, to investigate, and to analyze. It can complicate your recovery, and, in some cases, a missed step can void the underinsured motorist coverage which you have paid a premium to secure. Our Personal Injury Attorneys provide full-service personal injury and wrongful death representation across North Dakota and Minnesota, and we are well-versed in each State’s insurance laws.  We can help you navigate these tricky issues.

If you have a personal injury claim or a claim for the wrongful death of a loved one, do not hesitate to contact the Personal Injury Attorneys at the Vogel Law Firm. We are here to help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Get started with our firm today.


Pat Weir Jr. and Jordan Weir, Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorneys