Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Legal Notes



Under R.I.G.L. § 27-7 et seq. each policy of automobile insurance written must offer uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. That means if a driver with no insurance or insufficient insurance causes you injury through their negligent operation of a motor vehicle, your own insurance will step in and pay the loss. The coverage is for whatever amount you purchase. It is usually relatively cheap. Claims are settled through arbitration, limiting the time spent awaiting a trial. Your insurance company cannot raise your rates due to your election of this provision as you have paid a separate premium to avoid risk.

In order not to have uninsured/underinsured insurance coverage a policy holder under

  • 27-7-2.1 the owner/operator must have rejected coverage. In Rhode Island the automobile policy limits of at fault motorists may be “stacked” for the purpose of determining underinsurance thresholds. Pennsylvania General Ins. Co. v. Cantley, 615 A2nd 477 (R.I. 1992). Rhode Island recognizes excess underinsurance coverage. Brown v. Travelers Ins. Co., 610 A.2d 127 (R.I. 1992). Pursuant to R.I.G.L. 27-7-2.1 (g) an operator of a motor vehicle may be an uninsured motorist. As a practical matter if you are the victim of another’s drivers negligence and your injuries are in excess of a $100,000 value for lost wages, pain and suffering, and medical expenses and the driver who negligently struck your vehicle has only $25,000.00 in insurance, your own underinsurance coverage will step in and cover the deficit, provided you have greater coverage. If you had a $50,000.00 underinsured policy, in Rhode Island that policy could be stacked on the $25,000.00 policy affording you $75,000 in coverage and offering you a better result. In order to collect on underinsured coverage you must first exhaust the initial $25,000 by obtaining that satisfaction from the other operator before proceeding to your own underinsurance coverage.

One critical element in asserting under-insured coverage is that you must receive the consent of your own insurance company to settle before accepting the policy from the first insured. This is done by letter and allows your own provider to review the financial affairs of the negligent driver to determine if they may have grater assets. Theoretically your insurance company could seek to pursue the first insured. It is usually a highly unlikely scenario but failure to insure the consent could bar further underinsured recovery.

If more than two vehicles are involved or more than one insurance policy may be responsible for the liability causing your injury then apportionment of those policies may  ultimately be an issue. Before receiving consent of your own insurance company to settle, liability among those insurance providers must first be determined. The decisions of the Rhode Island Supreme Court in Butie v. Norfolk and Dedham Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 995 A 2d 546 (R.I. 2010), Hindson v. Allstate, 694 A2d 682 (R.I. 1997), and Brown v. Travelers Ins. Co., 610 A 2d 127 (R.I. 1992) would require a pro-rata apportionment of those policies as to excess underinsurance.

Injured drivers should be aware of their own rights under contracts they have paid for before settling with the opposing drivers insurance company; risking a short recovery.


Copyright John J. Flanagan 2017