The Insurance Research Council reports that an estimated 1 in 7 drivers in the United States are currently uninsured. As a result, many car insurance companies across the nation offer specific coverage in the event that you get into an accident with an uninsured driver, such as uninsured motorist (UM) coverage and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage.
UM coverage applies if the uninsured driver was at fault in the accident or if you were the victim of a hit-and-run accident. UIM coverage applies if the other driver is at fault and lacks a high enough level of coverage to cover the cost of the accident. This means that if the underinsured driver’s policy limit is reached before the cost is covered, your insurance company would pay the remainder of the costs until your coverage limit is reached.
While UM/UIM coverage can be helpful, often times the level of coverage isn’t enough to cover the costs of the accident. Luckily, several states allow you to “stack” your UM or UIM coverage. Read on to learn the differences between stacked and unstacked UM/UIM coverage.
If you have unstacked UM/UIM coverage, your level of coverage is the limit on your policy. For instance, if you have a set limit of $20,000, that is the maximum amount of coverage you will receive after an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver. Unstacked coverage is more common than stacked coverage, seeing as it is your only option if you insure just one car.
If you insure multiple vehicles and your state allows stacking, you are permitted to increase your level of UM/UIM coverage. You can utilize stacked coverage within one policy, or across policies.
Stacking your coverage within one policy means you are combining your coverage limits for multiple vehicles on a singular policy. For example, if you own two cars on one insurance policy and your UM/UIM limit is $20,000, you can combine your coverage limits for a total of $40,000.
Using stacked coverage across policies means you are combining your coverage limits between separate policies for a singular claim. For example, if you own two vehicles, each with separate policies and your UM/UIM limit is $25,000, you could file a claim using both policies, therefore using up to $50,000.
The Advantages and Disadvantages
There are both benefits and drawbacks to utilizing stacked UM/UIM coverage. Stacking can potentially raise the amount of coverage you can use in case of an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, and lets you increase your UM/UIM limits without increasing your liability coverage.
However, if you have stacked coverage, you may have higher rates, seeing as car insurance companies have to offset the risk of costly reimbursement.
In addition, while some states lack laws for stacked coverage, some states either forbid it or only allow it in specific circumstances. Aside from state laws, some car insurance companies have certain policies that disallow stacked coverage. Be sure to contact your car insurance company to discuss your options with stacked UM/UIM coverage.
Hurricanes, fires and other disasters can cause widespread devastation that threatens the safety of your family and home. But once a disaster passes, you aren’t necessarily out of danger. If your home is damaged, it may not offer sufficient protection for your family. Plus, assessing damage and the rebuilding process itself can be costly, even if your insurance policy helps to pay the bills.
Before you can rebuild or repair your home, you’ll have to complete detailed inspections to see the extent of the damage. However, you should also keep your immediate safety in mind at all times. Even if you’re eager to return home, there could be a number of hazards present after a disaster that aren’t easily visible.
Here are some tips for when you re-enter your home:
- Don’t return to your neighborhood until it’s declared safe by local officials.
- Inspect the outside of your home for cracks in the foundation and sagging in the roof.
- Don’t enter your home if there’s a hazard present, such as damaged power lines, floodwater that’s above the basement or the smell of natural gas.
- Walk through every room of your home with a friend or family member, and take note of any noticeable damage or lost property.
- Don’t drink tap water until it’s been declared safe by local authorities.
- Be aware that wildlife may have taken refuge in your home, especially after a flood. Use a shovel or other long tool to rummage through anything you can’t see, and never approach a wild animal directly.
- Never force open a door that appears to be jammed. It’s possible that damage to your home has forced a door to support some of the building’s structure.
- Refrain from using wired electronics until you know the electrical systems are working properly.
Cleaning and Repairs
Once you’ve determined that your home is safe, you many want to start cleaning or performing small repairs yourself. However, the precautions you take during the recovery process can change depending on the type of disaster that affected your area. Use the following best practices to identify potential hazards in your home and prepare yourself for the cleaning and rebuilding processes.
General Best Practices
- Be aware of hazards that may be unique to your home. For example, older homes may contain lead paint, asbestos or other dangerous substances that can become exposed after a disaster.
- Wear appropriate protective equipment. You should always wear gloves and goggles when cleaning chemical spills or working with household cleaners.
- Read the manufacturers’ instructions on all cleaning products and devices before using them.
- Never mix chemicals together, either when disposing of them or using them to clean.
- Be aware of carbon monoxide hazards. Because the gas is difficult to detect and your home’s carbon monoxide detectors may not be working properly, it can be hard to detect a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide. Never use fuel-burning devices inside your home, including portable generators that run on gasoline.
- Remove any standing water from your home as quickly as possible. Standing water can serve as a breeding ground for microorganisms and disease-carrying insects.
- Check the outside of your home to see if wind or debris has damaged the roof, windows or siding. If the damage appears to be severe, consult a professional about making repairs.
- Properly dispose of all waste materials and garbage, and never burn them.
- Take pictures of your home before and after it’s repaired. These pictures may help when making insurance claims.
- Make a record of any important documents that were damaged or destroyed, such as passports, birth certificates, Social Security numbers and insurance policies.
- Keep the receipts for any purchases you make while cleaning or rebuilding.
- Contact us at 831-661-5697 for help getting in touch with certified professionals and reviewing your homeowners policy.
- Wear an N-95 respirator if mold is present. If standing water has been in your home for at least two days, it’s likely that mold has begun to grow.
- Call a professional to help you clean if there’s a large amount of mold present.
- Remove any standing water as quickly as possible. However, if your basement is flooded, you should only pump out about one-third of the water a day. If any more is pumped out, it could cause the walls to collapse or the floor to buckle.
- Dispose of any food and containers that came into contact with floodwater, even if they appear to be airtight.
- Clean and dry all hard surfaces in your home. If anything can’t be cleaned and dried, it should be thrown away.
- Enter your home only after the fire department has said that it’s safe. Fires can cause severe damage to a building’s walls and floors, and they may not be structurally sound.
- To protect against serious health risks, avoid contact with soot and dirty water left over after a fire.
- Wear a mask while cleaning to prevent the inhalation of ash, soot and other residue.
- Check to see if your utilities are in working order. The fire department usually turns off utilities when fighting a fire and will know if they’re safe to use. Never try to turn your utilities back on by yourself.
- Use cleaning products that contain tri-sodium phosphate to help reduce the odor of smoke. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions before you use one of these products.
- Use a mild soap and warm water to remove stains from soot and smoke from hard surfaces. Make sure to rinse and completely dry all surfaces shortly afterward.
- Talk to a professional about replacing drywall or insulation that’s been soaked by water from fire hoses.
Working with Contractors
Hiring a contractor to repair your home is a good way to make sure the job is done professionally. Unfortunately, disasters also attract scam artists who prey upon those affected by a disaster, and you need to remain skeptical when using contractors. Here are some best practices for working with a contractor:
- Only use contractors who have a good referral from Scurich Insurance, family members or friends.
- Check to see if complaints have been lodged against a contractor you’re considering by visiting www.usa.gov/state-consumer.
- Be wary of contractors who encourage you to spend too much, offer “special deals” or ask for your credit card number before you’ve signed a contract.
- Ask to see copies of contractors’ general liability and workers’ compensation insurance policies before you work with them.
- Get a written price estimate that includes any spoken promises made by a contractor.
- Take your time to review a contract before you sign it, and be sure to ask for explanations about any price variations you notice. It’s also a good idea to get an attorney to review a contract before it’s signed.
- Never agree to pay a contractor upfront. A deposit of one-third the total price is standard.
- Only pay contractors with a check or credit card, and pay the final amount only after the work is finished and has passed your review. Also, keep in mind that paying with a credit card may offer protection from your bank and the credit card company if the contractor makes an unauthorized purchase.
Recovering from a disaster of any type is an extremely stressful experience, and one where your family’s safety and financial future may be in doubt. Here are some resources you may be able to use to help provide for your family and rebuild your home:
Make Sure Your Donations Reach the Right Cause
The damage caused by Hurricane Harvey is prompting people to help in whatever ways they can. Unfortunately, there are dishonest people who prey upon people’s good intentions, creating fake charity campaigns to exploit victims and take advantage of those who want to help.
Disaster Donation Scams
Despite the sense of urgency to help when disaster strikes, it’s important to do some research before donating. Use these tips to make sure your money reaches the right cause:
- Never wire money to someone who claims to be a charity. Legitimate charities don’t ask for wire transfers.
- Be cautious about bloggers and social media posts that provide charity suggestions.
- Only donate through a charity’s official website, and never through emails.
- Ensure that the charity explains on its website how your money will be used.
- Be wary of charities that claim to give 100 percent of donations to victims. Well-structured organizations need to use some of their donations to cover administrative costs.
- Never offer unnecessary personal information. However, it’s common for legitimate charities to ask for your mailing address.
Donors looking for a worthy charity can access an unbiased, objective list on a website called Charity Navigator. The site receives a Form 990 for all of its charities directly from the IRS, so it knows exactly how the charities spend their money and use their donations. It also rates charities based on their location, tax status, length of operation, accountability, transparency and public support.