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Rosner: The importance of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.

Byline: Commentary

Imagine you're driving home from work or taking the family on a trip. Through no fault of your own, another driver strikes your car. You're injured. You can't work. You hire a lawyer to pursue claims for personal injuries, and rely on his or her abilities to obtain the financial recovery necessary to compensate you for your injuries.

Unfortunately, your lawyer discovers that the driver who caused the collision either has no insurance or insufficient insurance coverage to compensate you for your injuries. The person who injured you is judgment-proof. They have no assets to satisfy any judgment your lawyer might obtain against them. How will you obtain fair and just compensation?

The simple solution is readily available, but largely ignored. Through your automobile insurance policy, you may obtain coverage for personal injuries caused by another driver who is either uninsured or underinsured. When obtaining car insurance, most people focus on liability coverage and property damage coverage, ignoring the coverage for personal injuries caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver. Uninsured or underinsured coverage is generally optional. However, if a driver were unaware of this coverage, how would one know to ask for it? In New York, this coverage is called Supplementary Uninsured Motorist ("SUM ") coverage, providing both uninsured and underinsured protection.

Most states require drivers to obtain liability coverage before driving their vehicle. Liability coverage protects others from any personal injuries a driver causes them in a collision. A good rule to follow is to obtain liability coverage for the total value of your current assets to adequately protect yourself. Don't obtain automobile insurance solely on the basis of the premium. Obtain the proper coverage amounts to protect yourself, your family and your assets in the event of a claim.

For example, if you have a home worth $300,000, a $50,000-a-year job, savings and checking or investment accounts valued at $50,000, then you should have at least $400,000 in liability coverage. The amount of your automobile liability coverage is significant, because generally you only obtain SUM coverage up to the maximum limit of your liability coverage in your automobile insurance policy. Therefore, if you have $300,000 in liability automobile coverage, you can obtain a maximum of $300,000 in uninsured/underinsured coverage. The cost of this coverage is less than liability coverage.

To protect yourself and your family, always have matching amounts of liability and uninsured/underinsured coverage, which varies from state to state.

Generally, once it is determined that the driver at fault was uninsured at the time of the collision, your lawyer will notify your insurance company of the intention to make a claim for uninsured benefits under your policy and engage in either informal discovery, arbitration or file a lawsuit against your insurance company.

When the other driver is underinsured, you would still make a claim under your insurance policy. However, your lawyer generally would first obtain the full value of the other driver's insurance coverage before you can make a claim under your policy. Your lawyer will coordinate this process. Still, be prepared for litigation. Once your attorney makes a claim, files for arbitration or starts a lawsuit on your behalf, be ready to submit to depositions, evaluations by doctors hired by the opposing side and if necessary, mediation, arbitration or a trial.

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the Insurance Research Council, if you were to drive through the United States on a road trip, on average you would have a one in seven chance of encountering an uninsured driver in 42 percent of the states. This does not include the probability of encountering an underinsured driver who causes a collision.

Still, the simplest, most cost-effective option to protect you and your family is to already have sufficient uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Otherwise, in the event of a crash, your lawyer's options are limited. You may obtain a limited recovery and/or a judgment against the other driver. Just because you obtain a judgment against the responsible party doesn't mean it is collectable. A judgment by itself does not provide you with the money required to rebuild your life after sustaining serious injuries.

Don't rely on the other driver to have the proper amount of insurance coverage or assets necessary to fairly compensate you for the pain and injuries you suffered. Protect yourself and your family with uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.

 

Seth M. Rosner is a trial attorney who focuses on personal injury, business litigation and insurance coverage matters.

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Publication:Long Island Business News
Date:Aug 6, 2018
Words:766
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