Understanding Uninsured Motorist Coverage in California

Don’t reject California’s uninsured motorist coverage. This essential car insurance option protects California drivers against financial disaster after a car accident.
Written by R.E. Fulton
Edited by Kathleen Flear
auto insurance policy in California
includes uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage as a standard option. You can reject this coverage in writing, but doing so is a major financial risk.  
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage
    isn’t a legal requirement in California, but it’s included by default in all car insurance policies unless rejected by written waiver. 
  • Uninsured motorist coverage pays for medical bills and vehicle repairs caused by an uninsured driver. 
  • 1 in 6 drivers in California doesn’t carry any
    car insurance
  • You can file a claim for medical bills, lost wages, or pain and suffering through UM/UIM. 
  • It’s rarely a good idea to reject California’s uninsured motorist coverage, as it provides protections no other insurance will—including your health insurance. 

Uninsured motorist coverage could save you from financial disaster after an accident caused by an uninsured driver

Uninsured motorist insurance allows you to bill your own insurance company for medical costs or car repairs caused by a driver who doesn’t carry
liability insurance
. Underinsured motorist coverage, its counterpart, can cover your costs if they exceed the liability limits on the at-fault driver’s policy. 
California offers three types of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: 
  • Uninsured motorist bodily injury (UMBI): Pays for medical bills caused by an uninsured driver
  • Underinsured motorist bodily injury (UIM): Pays for medical bills that exceed an at-fault driver’s liability limits
  • Uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD): Pays for vehicle repairs when the at-fault driver is uninsured

How it works

California requires all drivers to carry liability insurance as proof of financial responsibility for any accidents, injuries, or property damage they cause behind the wheel. 
Under normal circumstances, if you’re hit by another driver, you can bill the at-fault driver’s liability insurance to cover your medical bills and vehicle repairs. 
There’s just one problem: As of 2019, 16.6% of California’s 27 million licensed drivers were uninsured, according to a 2021 study by the Insurance Research Council. That’s one in six drivers—giving you a one in six chance of getting into a car accident with someone without any liability coverage. 
How UM/UIM/UMPD solves the problem: By including UM/UIM/UMPD in your insurance coverage, you ensure that you’ve got enough insurance to cover all your medical expenses and vehicle repairs—no matter who hits you. 
UM protects against hit-and-runs: While UMPD only pays out if the at-fault driver is identified, UM coverage can pay out when you’re struck by a hit-and-run driver. 
MORE: California hit-and-run laws

Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is included in all California auto insurance policies

Although UM/UIM/UMPD is not required by California state law, these coverages are included by default in every car insurance policy written in the state of California. If you choose not to carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, you must reject it in writing. 
It’s not a good idea to reject UM/UIM, though. Because California sets such low requirements for liability insurance, it’s a sound investment for any driver in the Golden State—as we’ll see below. 

California’s minimum liability limits won’t cover your costs in a serious accident

California has some of the lowest minimum liability insurance requirements of any state. Under the state insurance code, drivers in California are only legally required to carry: 

This is what an accident could look like with minimum liability limits…

If you’re in an auto accident caused by a driver who only carries
California’s minimum insurance
, your costs could quickly exceed their liability policy’s coverage limits. Let’s take an example: 
  • Christian hits Lily while texting on the PCH: The high-speed accident totals Lily’s 2017 Mini Cooper convertible and leaves her with a broken leg and concussion that keep her out of work for six weeks.
  • Both Christian and Lily only carry California’s minimum liability limits: They both chose to reject UM/UIM/UMPD coverage to save money. 
  • Lily’s car is worth $12,000: When she goes to submit an insurance claim with Christian’s insurance, she finds that his minimum liability coverage will only pay for $5,000, leaving her with $7,000 she can’t cover. 
  • Lily’s medical bills exceed $60,000: Between a $3,000 ER bill, a surgical bill to repair her broken leg, follow-ups with her primary care provider, and twelve weeks of physical therapy, she quickly blows past the bodily injury limits in Christian’s policy. Her health insurance isn’t great, so she’s taking on debt. 
  • Lily loses $3,720 in wages: Missing work at her minimum-wage job means losing $620 a week—and without short-term disability insurance, she can’t recover those wages. 
Lily is now facing over $40,720 in uncovered expenses—and that’s not even touching her pain and suffering, the impact of losing her car, or the ongoing healthcare costs that might follow her head injury. What’s more, if Christian had been entirely uninsured, Lily would be saddled with over $75,000 with no coverage. 
At this point, Lily’s best bet for recovering any damages is filing a personal injury lawsuit against Christian. That’s a long and expensive process that could eat up months of her life and only result in partial compensation for her damages. 
If she hadn’t gone out of her way to decline UM/UIM/UMPD coverage, Lily’s situation would be very different. She’d be able to use her UIM coverage to submit a claim with her own insurer for the expenses Christian’s minimum liability didn’t cover, allowing her to focus on healing and replacing her MINI Cooper rather than scrambling to manage her swelling load of debt. 

How much uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage do California drivers need?

In California, like in most states, UM/UIM coverage limits match your liability insurance limits. If you’re purchasing a minimum coverage policy, $15,000/$30,000/$5,000 of UM/UIM/UMPD will automatically be included unless you sign a waiver rejecting them. 
However, higher policy limits make sense for most California drivers. Aim for the following coverage limits for both liability insurance and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: 
  • $100,000 for bodily injury coverage per person
  • $300,000 for bodily injury coverage per accident
  • $50,000 for property damage coverage 

Do I need uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage if I have health insurance?

Carrying both UMBI and health insurance might seem redundant—but it’s not. UMBI typically covers things that health insurance won’t, such as lost wages and pain and suffering. 
UMBI will also cover your family members, household members, and friends—with some restrictions, making it a more comprehensive solution for medical costs associated with a car accident. While friends and more distant family members are typically only covered if they’re in a car insured under your policy, your household members will be covered if they’re in an accident as a pedestrian or cyclist. 

Alternatives and supplements to uninsured motorist coverage

Collision coverage and medical payments coverage are the two best additions to a minimum coverage auto insurance policy with liability and UM/UIM/UMPD coverage. 
  • Collision insurance
    covers damage to your vehicle caused by a collision, minus a deductible. You can submit a collision claim regardless of fault, making it an efficient way to cover your repair costs after a crash. 
  • Medical payments (MedPay) coverage
    pays for medical expenses for you and your passengers after an accident, regardless of fault. It works well alongside UMBI and health insurance, but it won’t pay for lost wages—so UM/UIM is still a good investment. 

How to submit an uninsured motorist claim

If you’re in an accident with an uninsured driver and need to submit a UM/UIM/UMPD claim with your automobile insurance, follow these steps: 
  • Notify your insurance provider as soon as possible after the accident.
    California state law
    requires drivers to report any accident that involves bodily injury or at least $1,000 in damages to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 10 days using Form SR-1—so let your insurer know at the same time. 
  • Work with the claims adjuster: Your insurance company (and the underinsured driver’s, if applicable) will review police reports and evidence you submitted to determine fault and estimate payouts. Even if you’re found to be partially at fault, you can still make a claim thanks to
    California’s pure comparative negligence laws
  • Wait for a check for the payout amount determined by your insurance company. If you feel the amount is too low, you can submit an appeal—but if you provided sufficient evidence of your injuries and/or vehicle damages to the adjuster, your payout should be enough to cover damages.  


California offers three types of uninsured motorist coverage: (1) uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage, (2) underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage, and (3) uninsured motorist property damage coverage. Combined, these coverages will cover medical bills and property damage caused by an at-fault driver who doesn't have insurance—or whose liability limits don’t cover all the damage they caused. 
Yes. One in six drivers in California are uninsured and even more only carry the minimum liability insurance required by state law, which isn’t enough to cover most injuries and damages stemming from a serious crash. For most drivers, it’s simply not worth the risk of financial catastrophe. 
If you’re hit by a driver without insurance in California, you won’t be able to file a claim with their insurance for any medical or repair bills you may have. Instead, you’ll need to file a claim with your own insurance. You can file a claim if you have: 
  • Uninsured motorist coverage
  • Collision coverage
  • Medical payments coverage
Uninsured motorist insurance covers you if you’re hit by an at-fault driver who doesn’t have any insurance coverage. Underinsured motorist coverage applies to cases where the at-fault driver’s liability coverage isn’t sufficient to pay for all the damage they caused. 
California is not a contributory negligence state. Instead, California law allows drivers to collect damages according to their level of fault unless they are 100% at fault for an accident. 
But there’s one type of coverage you can’t get if you share some fault in an accident: pain and suffering. California’s no pay, no play laws prevent drivers from suing or filing claims for non-economic damages when they share some responsibility for the accident. 
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