[IMAGE CREDIT: iStock / Kwangmoozaa]
(From our LLN “Guest Author” Series.)
It is hard to believe that the balance of this article first appeared in the Premiere Issue of Lake Legal News a decade ago, but I can assure you that the information is still relevant. I continue to educate and counsel my clients concerning the importance of Uninsured Motorist (“UM”) coverage. This is particularly true when it is determined that they do not have UM.
Recently, I represented a young man who was injured in a car crash when struck by a pizza delivery man. After completing our investigation, it was determined that the business that employed the at-fault driver did not have insurance. Ultimately, we were able to get a partial recovery for the client before the restaurant went out of business. About 6 months later this same man was involved in another accident and suffered injuries. However, he had followed my advice and had secured UM coverage after his first accident. Thankfully, we were able to get him a full recovery for his injuries because he was now “fully” covered. You cannot do much to prevent yourself from being in an accident, but you can take steps to make sure you are covered with the proper insurance.
Turning attention back to my original 2009 LLN article, the question then posed was: Is UM insurance important? In my unchanged opinion, the answer is an emphatic, “Yes.” Unfortunately, most people have no idea what uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is until it is too late. As the opening example in this article highlights, people arrive in my office after they or a family member have suffered a serious injury in an auto accident. They need to have their medical bills paid. They seek reimbursement for lost wages and feel that they should be compensated for pain and suffering. Many times, after a simple investigation, it is determined that the driver who caused the accident did not have liability insurance at the time of the accident. Unfortunately, if the injured client does not have UM coverage there is very little that we can do. In many instances, medical bills are left unpaid, lost wages are not reimbursed and no claim for pain and suffering can be made.
UM insurance will provide coverage for damages that are caused in an accident by a person that has no liability coverage or an inadequate amount to fully compensate an injured person. (People are often very surprised to find out that they were injured by a driver with no liability insurance.) Most people believe that Florida law mandates that all drivers obtain insurance. This general belief is only partly true. Pursuant to Florida law, all vehicle owners must obtain personal injury protection—or as it is commonly called, PIP coverage. PIP insurance provides benefits only for the damages that the vehicle owner himself suffers. There is no requirement to have the type of coverage which provides benefits for other persons that they may injury. This type of coverage is called bodily injury liability coverage.
What type of person would not obtain liability insurance? Unfortunately, my experience has shown that these are the exact types of drivers that are most likely to cause a serious accident. This includes, for example, drivers who no longer hold a valid license as a result of a DUI or because of multiple traffic offenses. Generally speaking, irresponsible drivers are the ones that forgo the type of coverage which will protect the people that they may hurt.
The Florida Legislature agrees that UM is very valuable insurance. In fact, if you purchase liability insurance in Florida, your insurance company must offer you UM. If your agent does not sell a minimum amount to you, then a knowing rejection of this coverage must be made. This signed rejection form must say, “I understand that I am giving up valuable coverage.” The great majority of my clients never remember signing this document. They are quite surprised that they rejected this coverage. Instead, they believe that they had “full coverage.”
In sum, I have yet to see a valid reason for a purchaser of auto insurance to reject this valuable UM insurance coverage. I feel strongly that the most likely way that you will be injured in an accident is by an uninsured driver. Therefore, in my opinion, UM insurance is the most important insurance you can purchase for the protection of you and your family. Please check your auto insurance policy today. Contact your insurance agent and determine whether you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage on all your vehicles. If you have questions about the type of coverage that you have, or should have, please contact me for an evaluation of your insurance before it is too late.
Attorney Gregory P. Smith is a Tavares, Florida, lawyer whose practice is devoted to Personal Injury matters. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1987. [PHOTO CREDIT: Provided]