Chances are good that the average Calif. policyholder opting to purchase uninsured motorist coverage is unaware of the broad scope of coverage that must be afforded under the uninsured motorist statute. For one thing, the insurance is mandatory in all motor vehicle liability policies issued in the state, unless specifically waived in writing.

The uninsured motorist statute mandates that all motor vehicle liability policies issued in California cover “the insured, the insured’s heirs, or legal representative for all sums within the limits that he, she, or they, as the case may be, shall be legally entitled to recover as damages for bodily injury or wrongful death from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle,” unless such coverage is rejected in writing by the insured. This also includes underinsured motorist coverage. Therefore, if the applicant does not sign a deletion agreement — or the waiver is somehow defective — then a court could find that uninsured motorist coverage attached, even though it is not reflected in the policy’s declarations and no premium was paid.

Coverage Specifics

Under the statute, “uninsured motor vehicle” refers to “a motor vehicle with respect to the ownership, maintenance, or use of which there is no bodily injury liability insurance or bond applicable at the time of the accident, or there is the applicable insurance or bond but the company writing the insurance or bond denies coverage there under….” This also includes an underinsured motor vehicle, as defined. Moreover, the statutory definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” includes a vehicle “whose owner or operator is unknown.” In other words, a hit-and-run vehicle qualifies as an uninsured motor vehicle. Thus, an insured struck by a hit-and-run driver has a claim for uninsured motorist benefits.

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