Automobile Accidents – Who Covers What?

May 3, 2013

by Meredith Spires
May 2, 2013

It’s not too far from the truth to say that most of us have been in at least one automobile accident during our lifetime. If you’re one of the ones who’s escaped this misfortune, consider yourself lucky – if not, you know all too well the headache that being in a car accident can bring.

The other day, I received a call from a client of mine who was involved in one of those annoying car accidents. After the initial shock of the impact itself, she soon began to wonder how much this frustrating experience would cost her. Many people know they have insurance and think they are properly covered, but the details of their policy, and just how their insurance will respond, are a different story.   The answer to who pays for what? isn’t always black and white, but there are a few general scenarios to help you understand a little clearer what your insurance will pay for in certain situations.

Scenario 1: In the accident above, the woman (named Jane, for the sake of this story) was sitting at a red light when a car slammed into her car. Both cars were damaged, yet, neither party was injured.  If the other driver is held liable, the property damage portion of the other driver’s liability coverage would cover the cost of damage to Jane’s vehicle, up to the other driver’s limit. The other driver’s collision coverage would cover the cost of the repairs for their car, subject to their deductible.  In this scenario, if the other driver’s insurance company accepts liability, Jane’s insurance should be responsible for nothing.

Scenario 2:  However, say it was the other way around and this time there were injuries.  In this case, Jane was the one who slammed into the car in front of her. Jane’s collision coverage would then cover the damage to her car and her property damage liability would cover the damage to the other driver’s car, up to Jane’s property damage liability limit. If Jane’s insurance policy includes Medical Payments it could cover limited medical expenses of both parties. Medical Payments can be used no matter who is at fault.  To take it a step further, should the driver who was hit and injured by Jane decide to sue, Jane’s bodily injury liability would take effect and could pay for her attorney. If Jane was found guilty, that same coverage could pay the damages up to the bodily injury liability limit.

Scenario 3: An accident involving an uninsured driver does change the dynamic a bit. If Jane was hit by an uninsured driver, that driver would be held liable and Jane’s uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage would cover the cost of damage to Jane’s vehicle up to the limits defined in her policy.

There are also scenarios where other drivers aren’t involved at all; say for example a large tree branch falls on Jane’s car while it is sitting in her driveway. In this case, Jane’s comprehensive coverage would come into play. Jane would be required to pay her deductible and her insurance company would cover the rest.  If Jane’s car was considered a total loss, Jane would get the cash value of the car (today’s value minus Jane’s deductible.)

Whew! Yes, it can be confusing, but the key is partnering with an insurance agent that you trust and who is knowledgeable of all things insurance. Their knowledge helps to clear any confusion, and it’s their job to ask the questions that lead to proper coverage if and when your need for insurance arises. Do your research on the agent and leave the insurance research up to the one you choose.


Meredith Spires is a Personal Lines Producer at KeenanSuggs, the largest independently owned insurance agency in South Carolina. Headquartered in Columbia, SC with offices in Greenville, SC and Raleigh, NC, KeenanSuggs has been insuring individuals and businesses since 1949.

Meredith is a Wofford graduate who resides in Columbia with her husband, Charlie, and dogs, Amelia and Saluda.

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