Am I out Of Luck if I’m in An Accident with An Uninsured or Underinsured Vehicle?

NO, NO, NO. You are not! While New York requires automobile owners to carry liability motor vehicle insurance on their cars with a $25,000/$50,000 minimum limit, all too often, insurance policies are canceled due to non-payment, but people continue to drive their cars or trucks with no insurance. Don’t despair. There is a definite remedy.

First of all, what is “$25,000/$50,000” liability insurance? This means that if you involved in a motor vehicle accident, either as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, and that car has “Bodily Injury Liability” coverage with the New York State minimum “$25,000/$50,000” liability insurance limits, you can bring a claim against the owner and operator of the other vehicle for your pain and suffering, and depending upon your injuries, you could recover “up to” $25,000 to compensate you for your “pain and suffering” from the date of the accident and into the future. 

So what is the $50,000 for? What if there were one or more people in the car along with you, for a total of two, three, four, or more people? Well, the insurance company is only responsible to their insured, the owner or operator of the other vehicle (in this instance) for a ‘total’ of $50,000, no matter how many people were in the car. So if everyone in the car was injured and even if the compensatory value of the total injuries were more than $50,000, then all parties (again, in this example) would have to split the $50,000.

Remember that while $25,000/$50,000 is the ‘minimum’ in New York, responsible drivers often carry more “Bodily Injury Liability” insurance coverage; $50,000/$100,000; $100,000/$300,000 for instance. Of course, the more coverage you have, the more your policy costs. But there is another benefit for YOU to carry a higher policy limit. That is, what is labeled in your policy as “Supplemental Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance.” What is this and why is it important? Grab the declarations page (dec sheet) of your own policy and take a look at it- now! The Declarations page is usually the first page of the policy that you received in the mail and with the most popular automobile liability policies, it is also available online at their websites or through their “Apps.”

Uninsured Insurance

If you own a car or truck, live with someone who does, or are a passenger in a car, you automatically get $25,000.00 in coverage for your pain and suffering in the event that the other car involved in the accident has no liability insurance. The policy owner has the option to purchase a higher “uninsured” limit, but only up to the amount of their own liability coverage. As an example, if you own a car and you carry the minimum $25,000/$50,000 “Bodily Injury Liability” coverage, then you would also automatically have $25,000 in coverage in the event that the other car is uninsured. If your policy is higher, for example, $100,000/$300,000, you can purchase and raise your ‘uninsured” limit to up to $100,000. Why would you want to do that? Well, when you buy your insurance with a “liability” limit of $100,000, you are protecting the other driver if they were hurt and make a claim against you. They could then recover up to $100,000 from your insurance company for ‘their’ pain and suffering. So why wouldn’t you protect yourself for the same amount in the event that the other car has no insurance? So how much does that cost? Surprisingly, very, very little, but we will get to that later. Have you checked your policy yet?

Underinsured Insurance

Now, let's say that the other car involved in the accident was not uninsured. That is, that they did have valid “Bodily Injury Liability” insurance but not enough to fairly and adequately compensate you for the injuries that you sustained in the accident. Are you out of luck? Not necessarily. The answer is—it depends. It depends on whether you had purchased additional coverage. If you purchased additional “uninsured motorist coverage” giving you more than the $25,000 minimum policy, then you are not out of luck! As discussed previously, you can purchase and raise your ‘uninsured” limit to up to the liability limit of your policy and at the same time, raise your ‘underinsured” limit to up to the liability limit of your policy. Why would you want to do that?

By purchasing higher “uninsured/underinsured” coverage, you are protecting yourself, not from an “uninsured” driver (one with no insurance) but from an “underinsured” driver (one with not enough insurance).

For example, let’s say that you have a $100,000 “Bodily Injury Liability” policy and you were smart enough (informed enough) to purchase the same limit, $100,000 in “uninsured/underinsured” coverage. Let's say that you get into an accident with a car that has only a $25,000/$50,000 limit. Remember that this means that you can only recover up to $25,000 from the insurer of the other vehicle. But what if you suffered serious injuries which have a compensatory value of $100,000. Well, you are no longer stuck receiving only $25,000 for your injuries.  Now you can get the $25,000 from the insurer of the other car, and because you had a $100,000 “uninsured/underinsured” policy, you can get the difference, the additional $75,000 from your own insurance policy. You have now protected yourself!!

Here is the best part, the cost of “uninsured/underinsured” coverage is unbelievably little. A typical “uninsured/underinsured” policy with $100,000 limits is about $47 for six months and $500,000 limits is only about $92 for six months. Just remember that you cannot purchase “uninsured/underinsured” for more than your “Bodily Injury Liability” limits.

Have you taken a look at your own declarations page (dec sheet) yet? What are your “bodily Injury Liability” limits? This is the limit of how much your insurance company will pay on your behalf to someone else who was injured in the accident. The higher the limit, the more they could get from your insurer. Remember that they don’t automatically get that, but that is what they could get if their injuries warrant such a payment.

Now, look at the “Supplemental uninsured/underinsured” coverage section. This is the amount that your own insurance company will pay to you, your family member living with you, or passengers in your car in the event they are in an accident and the responsible vehicle has either no insurance or not enough insurance coverage to compensate them for the injuries that they sustained in the accident.

So I hope that this article helps you do one thing: That is, take a look at your dec sheet and make sure that you are not underinsured. Make sure that you have enough liability coverage for your own comfort level, weighing the cost of the policy against your potential exposure if you get sued. Make sure that you have enough “uninsured/underinsured” coverage” to protect yourself and your family in the event of an accident with an uninsured or underinsured vehicle.

One last thought: Be sure to hire an attorney after an accident who knows how to protect your rights and take immediate steps to pursue all avenues of insurance for you. If your attorney fails to give your insurance company timely notice of a potential uninsured or underinsured claim, you may later be barred (stopped) from making the claim. Our office, The Law Office of Steven R. Smith, has been representing injured people for over 30 years. We take every case personally and give our fullest attention to every detail of the claim and every need of our client. Whether it's medical treatment cost, lost earnings, transportation costs to the doctor, or prescription medication, we assist our clients in getting every benefit that they deserve. And of course, we have a track record of getting maximum results for our clients. If you have a case for us to handle for you now, or if you would like to discuss or get more information about the subject of this article, please feel free to call us or email us, or to get more information at our website. We hope this article was informative and useful.

*Please note that this article was meant to be informative and should not be taken and is not intended to constitute legal advice. All cases are different, laws in other states differ, and unless our firm is specifically retained in writing and you are given specific legal advice about your case by an attorney in our firm, you should not rely on any informational content, which is provided herein for general knowledge only. 

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