In the Commonwealth of Virginia you do not have to purchase automobile insurance to lawfully register a vehicle and drive on Virginia’s roads and highways. Instead, you may elect to pay an uninsured motorist fee to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you make the prudent choice and purchase auto insurance, every policy issued in Virginia must have bodily injury liability limits of at least $25,000 per person, and $50,000 per occurrence. This is sometimes referred to as Virginia’s “minimum limits.” This minimum coverage provides $25,000 in liability coverage to any one person who is injured in a motor vehicle collision and will provide a total of $50,000 in liability coverage per collision.
For an increased premium, you can raise the limits of your liability coverage. For example, a car owner might elect to purchase liability limits of $50,000 per person, and $100,000 per occurrence. Some consumers purchase the next higher level of $100,000 per person, with $300,000 per occurrence. Liability coverage is straightforward; it protects the insured in the event that they negligently injure someone who then brings a personal injury claim against them. The insured is covered for any judgment rendered against them up to the limits of the liability coverage they have selected. This protection is undeniably valuable, but the question remains: what happens if someone without insurance negligently injures you?
If the injured claimant has an automobile insurance policy with liability coverage, Virginia law requires that the policy have limits of uninsured motorist coverage which equal the amount of the liability coverage. This applies unless the insured or their spouse declined such limits in writing. Uninsured motorist coverage protects the insured, and any resident family members, if they are injured by the negligence of someone who has no liability insurance coverage. We call such a negligent driver an “uninsured motorist”. Under these circumstances, the injured victim can use the uninsured motorist coverage on their own policy to receive compensation for the losses caused by the negligence of the uninsured driver.
The purpose of uninsured motorist coverage is to provide the innocent victim with a source from which they may be compensated for the losses caused by an uninsured driver. Returning to the discussion of liability coverage, absent a written declination, a Virginia minimum limits policy will provide you or your resident family members with $25,000 in per person coverage in the event of injury sustained in an automobile collision with an uninsured driver. If you elect to increase your coverage above the state minimum, for example by purchasing a $100,000 / $300,000 policy, you will have $100,000 in per person coverage available in the event of a crash.
Uninsured motorist coverage does not give the negligent, uninsured driver, a ‘free pass’ since that person may ultimately be required to reimburse your insurance company for the amount that it paid pursuant to an uninsured motorist claim. It does, however, afford valuable protection in the event you are injured by an uninsured motorist.
Virginia’s uninsured motorist statute can be a valuable tool in the wake of a serious motor vehicle collision but it only works in your benefit if you purchase enough liability insurance to adequately protect you and the people you care about in the wake of a collision. Understanding the connection between liability coverage limits and uninsured motorist protection is vital before you select the limits of automobile insurance policy – having adequate uninsured motorist protection could turn out to be one of the best decisions you ever make.
About the Author: Charles Allen is a Richmond car accident lawyer with Allen & Allen. He has handled injury cases for Virginians for more than 25 years.
 See Va Code § 46.2-706 available at: https://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+46.2-706
 See Va. Code § 46.2-472 available at: https://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+46.2-472
 See Va. Code § 38.2-2206 available at: https://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+38.2-2206