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Don’t Pet the Skunk

DLH_Profile_CroppedHeadShot_250My friend, Jack Knight, says, “The only way some people learn not to pet a skunk…is by petting a skunk.” And I see an analogy between that profound statement and automobile insurance coverages in Florida today.

Suppose that you are driving to the movie theater one Saturday with your spouse or child riding along with you and another speeding vehicle runs a stop sign, T-bones your vehicle, totals it and you and your family member are air-lifted to a trauma center for life-saving medical treatment. Both of you survive but face lengthy medical treatment to restore some normalcy to your life and you are out of work for an extended period of time. Who is responsible and what, if anything, do they pay?

The answer to the first question is rather easy. The driver and the owner of the at-fault vehicle are responsible to you and your family member under Florida Law. The answer to the second question can be more complicated and is best answered by, “It depends.”

Now this is where it gets a little boring, but it’s important to understand this. The State of Florida, Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Financial Responsibility recently reported that approximately 25% of people who own and operate motor vehicles on Florida’s streets and highways have NO insurance, even though it’s required by law. While there are no known statistics indicating what percent of owner/operators of automobiles in Florida have ONLY the required, minimal insurance, I would estimate that percentage to be another 50% based on my 40 years of experience handling motor vehicle collision cases. The required, minimal automobile insurance is PIP No Fault coverage and Property Damage Liability. So in the above example, the careless driver’s PIP No Fault insurance pays some of the careless driver’s medical bills and lost wages (not yours) and the careless driver’s Property Damage Liability insurance pays for the property damage to your vehicle. Your PIP No Fault coverage pays you $10,000 toward your medical bills and lost wages, but in a moderate to severe injury situation, that coverage is exhausted in a matter of days. The careless driver’s insurance company pays you NOTHING for you or your family member’s past and future medical and hospital bills, NOTHING for you or your family member’s past and future lost wages and NOTHING for you or your family member’s human suffering or the decline of your quality of life. And that careless driver, although legally responsible for those damages, rarely has the financial ability to pay those damages; that’s why he had only the required, minimal insurance…he has no assets or money to protect from your negligence claim. What we call judgment-proof. You can get a big judgment against the careless driver, but you can’t collect it. As the old saying goes, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip.”

So that means that in Florida, you have a 3 out of 4 chance that the careless driver that hits you will have no insurance or only the required, minimal insurance and you get paid nothing by the careless driver or his insurance company for the things that are most important to you. A collision caused by a careless driver like that can both destroy your life as well as bankrupt you with medical and hospital bills and loss of income. I see it all too often.

That is the problem. What is the solution? Uninsured Motorist coverage on your own automobile insurance policy. This is insurance coverage that you buy as part of your own automobile insurance to insure yourself and others riding with you against injuries and damages caused by careless drivers with no insurance or no insurance that benefits you. Ask your insurance agent about it. Insist on it. Shop it. And you will be surprised how little this additional coverage costs you and how much peace of mind it will give you. The higher the coverage limits, the higher the premium. Buy what you can afford. I recommend at least $100,000/$300,000 in Uninsured Motorist coverage, more if you can afford it. And if the careless driver that crashes into you or a family member has only $10,000 in Bodily Injury Liability coverage and you have a $100,000 bodily injury liability claim, then your own Uninsured Motorist coverage is also UNDERINSURED Motorist coverage. And your own insurance company would be obligated to pay you $90,000 over and above the careless driver’s $10,000 of Bodily Injury Liability insurance.

I don’t like paying insurance premiums any more than the next guy, but some insurance coverages are important…and this is one of them. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for your family (or encourage them to if they’re old enough to have their own vehicle). Given the percentages mentioned above, it’s a good bet. And you don’t have to learn it by petting the skunk.

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