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Car Insurance

Authored By: Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia
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CAR INSURANCE

This document tells you the following:

What kinds of car insurance are there?
What do the different kinds of car insurance cover?
How do you buy car insurance?

Case of the New Driver

Tina, a 16-year old driver, and her brother, Walter, a passenger, were in a driving accident. Tina rear-ended another car driven by a man named Mr. Elder. Tina's parents were glad no one was hurt, but they were not exactly pleased about the accident. They told Tina to phone the insurance company right away. They said the insurance company would need to have as much information as possible, starting with the insurance policy number.

Every person who drives a vehicle in the state of Georgia is required to have insurance on that motor vehicle. The purpose is to protect people who travel on the public roads. In this way, if they are involved in an accident, they can be compensated for their loss. Compensation includes general and special damages. Special damages include payment for medical bills, lost wages, and repair of vehicle damage. General damages include pain and suffering.

The law requires that each person carry proof of insurance and that such proof be shown upon request by presenting an insurance card that provides the name and address of the company, the policy number, and the name of the insured ("named insured"). What does it mean to be a "named insured"?

In the case of Tina and Walter, Tina was driving her parents' vehicle. The name of the insured would probably be her parents, not Tina specifically. How is it that she is covered under her parents' policy?

Most insurance policies cover not only the main owner or driver of the vehicle but also "insured persons," including resident relatives (relatives who live in the same household) and permissive users (those given permission to use the vehicle). For example, if Tina's mother owned the vehicle and her sister came to town and drove it, the sister would be considered a permissive user. She would, therefore, also be insured. Thus, if Tina's aunt drives negligently and causes an accident, Tina's mother's insurance company would cover her for her negligent acts. It would also pay any claims filed against her.

What about Tina? Well, Tina is certainly a resident relative because she lives with her parents. Therefore she is insured under their policy. She does not have to go out and get her own insurance policy. However, most insurance companies want to know the names of all persons who may drive the car. In all likelihood, Tina is named on her parents' policy. In some instances, the insurance company will attempt to exclude a particular person, like a teenager. It is therefore very important to read the insurance policy to see if anybody or anything in particular is excluded from coverage.

A person who purchases insurance coverage may choose, to some extent, the type of coverage and the amount of coverage he or she wants.

Types of coverage include the following:

  • liability-automobile insurance coverage that pays damages to other parties for injuries or property loss when the insured is at fault;
  • comprehensive-automobile insurance coverage that pays for damages to the insured vehicle when the damage occurs other than by collision;
  • collision-automobile insurance coverage that pays for damage resulting from collision even when the insured is at fault; and
  • uninsured motorist coverage-automobile insurance coverage that protects the insured from loss in automobile accidents in which the other driver is at fault and is uninsured.
Type of Auto InsuranceRequired by Georgia Law?What does it Protect?Whom does it compensate?Based on Fault?
LiabilityYesperson and propertyothersyes
CollisionNopropertyselfno
ComprehensiveNopropertyselfno
Uninsured MotoristYesperson and propertyself and passengersyes


Note: Georgia law required motorcycles to have liability insurance. The other types of coverage are not required.

Automobile liability insurance and uninsured motorist coverage are required by law, with minimum coverage limits of $25,000. A person can have more coverage-in fact, as much coverage as he or she wants or is willing to pay for. Collision insurance is not required, and sometimes people with older vehicles choose not to purchase it. Other types of coverage may also be optional. A declaration page (part of an insurance policy) sets forth the type and the amount of coverage the person has purchased.

However, many people who buy insurance do not ask enough questions about it until they need to make use of it-usually, not until they get into an accident. At that time, they may discover that they don't have enough insurance, particularly in the case of uninsured motorist coverage (explained later in this section).

Liability Coverage

Liability insurance coverage extends to both property damage (vehicle and other property) and personal injury.

  • Personal Injury

The personal injury portion of liability coverage provides coverage when the insured person's (usually the driver's) negligence or fault causes an accident in which another party is injured. The coverage of the at-fault party (the negligent party) is made available to the victim of the accident.

Tina has $100,000 liability insurance for each person but no more than $300,000 for each accident. It should be noted that a person who is injured is not limited in his or her recovery to the amount of insurance available: the injured party may also sue the at-fault party for damage over the amount of insurance available.

  • Property Damage

The liability coverage provided by an insurance policy pays for damage to another person's property caused by the insured.

Tina's liability coverage is $50,000. In her collision, Tina also badly damaged the other car. The driver of that car can make a claim against her for the amount of damage done to the car-up to $50,000. On the other hand, say Tina drives negligently, loses control of her car, and crashes into somebody's house. That homeowner's claim against Tina would be covered under this portion of Tina's insurance policy as well.

  • Collision

If you have collision coverage-and many people don't-your insurance company will pay for the damage done to your own auto as a result of a collision, even if the accident is your fault. You will have to pay the amount you chose as the deductible when you took out your policy (usually $100, $250, or $500), but the insurance company will pay for the remaining amount of the loss. A deductible is defined as the amount of loss an insured person pays for him or herself when a claim is filed against the insurance he or she has.

If you are in an accident and the other person is at fault, you have two options. You can have your insurance company pay under your policy's collision coverage, or you can try to make the at-fault party pay. You will probably be reimbursed for the loss more quickly if your own insurance company pays. If you decide to have your own insurance company pay, you will have to pay the deductible as previously discussed. However, because the accident is not your fault, at some point you most probably will be reimbursed for the deductible by the at-fault party.

  • Comprehensive

Another type of property damage coverage protection is called comprehensive coverage. It is provided by a person's own insurance company for his or her own vehicle. It covers damage from any cause except collision. This coverage would include damage to a person's car from fire, wind, water, or other natural causes. It would also protect the insurance holder if the auto were stolen or if a rock flying up from the roadway broke the windshield. Comprehensive coverage is not required under Georgia law.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is perhaps one of the most necessary types of automobile insurance. Using Tina as an example, let's say she is driving along when somebody hits her car. Tina is rushed to the hospital with a broken arm and leg, which require surgery. She has to wear a cast for three months and undergo rehabilitation for six months. Her medical bills are $60,000.
Tina doesn't have any health insurance but is covered by her mother's car insurance policy. However, the car insurance provides for only $5,000 in medical benefits.

Who will pay for Tina's medical bills? The person who hit her? What if that person carries only the minimum liability limit required in Georgia-$25,000? That amount certainly won't be enough to pay for Tina's medical bills. This situation is when Tina's uninsured motorist coverage comes into play. Because the person who hit her is underinsured (not enough insurance), Tina will be able to make a claim against her own insurance company. The same would be true if the person who hit her were uninsured (had no insurance at all).

How much can Tina get from her insurance company? She is eligible to receive up to the difference between her UM coverage and the liability coverage of the at-fault driver. Her UM coverage is $100,000/$300,000-in other words, her policy will pay up to $100,000 per person hurt in an accident but with a maximum of $300,000 total paid out per accident. Because the other person's liability coverage is $25,000, Tina could get up to $75,000 under her UM coverage, more than enough to pay for all of her medical bills. Of course, she can get no more than the amount needed to cover the full amount of her bills.

Most people in Georgia carry little UM coverage. Georgia law requires only $25,000 UM coverage.

If Tina had only $25,000 UM coverage, what would happen to her? She has $60,000 in medical bills, and the person who hit her can pay $25,000 under his liability policy, leaving a balance owed of $35,000. Tina's medical benefits will pay $5,000. Her balance is now $30,000. How much can she collect from her own insurance company under her UM coverage? Nothing. She can recover only the difference between her UM coverage and the at-fault party's liability amount. She has $25,000 in UM coverage; the other party has $25,000 in liability coverage. The difference between the two is zero, leaving Tina with the $30,000 balance that she'll have to figure out how to pay. As in the previous example, she could sue the person who hit her. But if the person only has $25,000 in coverage and doesn't have a good job, a house, and other property, Tina will probably never recover more than the $25,000 policy limit.

Purchasing Auto Insurance

If you own or operate an automobile, you must purchase insurance. There are many insurance companies doing business in Georgia. The rates they charge vary. The rates depend on factors such as the applicant's age, sex, marital status, and driving history. They also vary with the type of motor vehicle to be insured.

Rates for younger persons, particularly those under 21 years, are higher than for the general population. They are higher for young men than for young women; studies have shown that men in this age bracket cause more accidents than do women. There is evidence, however, that some young people are more likely than other drivers to be safe. Therefore some insurance companies reduce rates somewhat for young drivers who have, for example, taken driver's education courses or who make good grades. As long as accident statistics show young drivers cause a large proportion of accidents, the high insurance rates are likely to prevail.

The dollar amounts of coverage will also affect the rates charged. As mentioned earlier, a person may elect to have a large amount of coverage, but the insurance costs will be high, too. The type of coverage also will affect the cost. For example, a person may choose to have full coverage, including liability, collision, comprehensive, and uninsured motorist coverage. Such a policy would cost more than one with just the required liability coverage.

* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Fourth Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2004). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase at or by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.

Last Review and Update: Jul 30, 2004