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Uninsured Motorists

A tragic situation.

Two weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I received a call from a woman, let’s call her Mary Brown, saying that her husband, Bobby, a hurricane hunter in the United States Air Force, had been involved in a terrible car accident that was not his fault.

The guy who had hit Mr. Brown had no automobile insurance, even through Alabama has mandatory financial responsibility laws stating that all drivers must have a minimum of at least $25,000 per person (up to $50,000 per accident) in automobile insurance to cover bodily injuries.

This is not much coverage when it comes to treating serious injuries, but at least it could have helped partially cover Mr. Brown’s high medical bills.   The Browns, fortunately, had some Uninsured Motorist’s (“UM”) coverage to help ease a bit of the financial stress while Mr. Brown recovered from severe back injuries.

Despite what many believe, the liability coverage on a policy does not pay for your own injuries if you get hurt in an accident caused by somebody else.

It only pays for injuries to the person or people in the other car if you caused the accident.   If another driver causes an accident and has no insurance, you will not recover without your own UM coverage.  If the other driver has only the minimum $25,000 required in Alabama (minimums vary from state-to-state), it may not be enough to pay for your injuries and you will need your own underinsured motorist’s (“UIM”) coverage to make up the difference.

Take the case of Glenn Cohen, who suffered devastating back, leg and hip injuries in a wreck caused by another driver who only had the minimum of $25,000 in UM coverage.   Mr. Cohen had to rely on his own UIM coverage to pay the bulk of his bills, which ran in excess of $200,000.

In addition, you can’t assume another driver is carrying the minimum required in your state as the law is not strictly enforced by state officials.

Daphne, Alabama Police Officer Kenny Huffman says that police officers and state troopers rarely suspend a driver for driving without insurance and rarely give out tickets for this offense.

Without consequences, there is not much incentive for drivers not otherwise inclined to follow the law.   So, the responsibility lies with each driver to protect himself or herself through his or her own policy.   Moreover, collecting on UM/UIM coverage does not cause premiums to go up because it is based on the premise that the other driver is at fault.  Yet, because it is cheap, it is often downplayed by insurance agents and insurance companies because they cannot make much money from the “sale” of UM/UIM coverage.   Here are some example costs for premiums for this type of coverage:

$25,000/50,000   = $51

$50,000/100,000 = $61

Coverage only costs about as much as four or five trips to a fast food restaurant each year.   So, study your policy, ask your agent to explain it to you until you understand what you are getting, and do not sign a waiver of UM/UIM coverage.  Without a waiver, you are likely entitled to the minimum in coverage allowable in your state, whether you opted for it or not (this is the case in Alabama).

With a waiver, you are not entitled to any UM/UIM coverage at all.   Remember that you can only control your own actions, not the actions of another person.   You, and only you, have the power to protect yourself before you get hit by an uninsured or underinsured motorist and find yourself without any or enough means to pay your bills and lost wages, or be compensated for pain and suffering.  Otherwise, after an accident, it will simply be too late.

Read more blog posts by Elizabeth Citrin, defense attorney and legal consultant.