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Question:

I need to get insurance for my car, and want to know how much I have to get. What does the law require?  What do I do if I can’t get insurance?

Answer:

Illinois law requires two basic kinds of car insurance. First, you’ve got to insure against the harm you could cause others. Then, you’ve got to insure yourself against the harm others could cause you, but not be able to pay for.

For the bodily injury and property damage you could cause others, you’ve got to have liability insurance. That insurance must cover at least $20,000 of one person’s injuries (or death), and a total of $40,000 for all the injuries (or deaths) from an accident. It also must cover $15,000 of damage to other people’s property.

That mandatory liability insurance guarantees that you’ll be able to pay for at least some of the damage you might cause. But these minimums are pretty low, and easy to exceed. My agent, for example, says one customer went over $15,000 property damage limit by hitting a prize-winning dog.

In addition to that minimum insurance for your liability to others, you’re required to insure against deadbeats who might be liable to you. That’s uninsured motorist coverage, and basically insures you if you get hurt by someone who can’t pay. You’ve got to have uninsured motorist coverage against your bodily injuries (not property damage), in the same minimum amounts as you’re required to have to protect others--$20,000 per person, $40,000 per accident.

That’s all the law requires. Your own insurance company, or a lender, may require more. For example, most car loans require some kind of physical damage insurance on your own vehicle. That kind of insurance usually assures that your loan gets paid if your car gets wrecked or stolen.

If you can’t get insurance, ask an agent about the Illinois Automobile Insurance Plan. The Plan requires insurance companies to provide qualified drivers with the minimum insurance coverage. To qualify, you’ve got to have a valid license, and not owe any money for unpaid insurance premiums, or for any damages from car accidents you caused. 

If you qualify, you’ll be assigned an insurance company that has to insure you. Insurance companies take turns insuring Plan participants, so your cost is the same, no matter which company you get. I’m told that for an adult over 30, the cost is $466 per year. That’s more than double what a trouble-free driver would pay, but better than the minimum $500 fine for driving without insurance.

The preceding question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette.

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