What are the various types of coverage?
Your insurance policy probably contains strange categories, numbers and letters and a variety of papers giving you the chance to waive or increase certain coverages. What does it all mean and what should you do to protect yourself without paying too much?
Although each jurisdiction has its own laws regulating coverages, all mandate “bodily injury” (“BI”) coverage, usually up to a maximum of $500,000. This covers others if you are at fault in an accident. The coverage sometimes allows up to $100,000 coverage per person injured and up to $300,000 total for any one accident. Most states mandate a minimum amount of coverage in this category, often $20,000 or $25,000. A person injured in an accident can generally make a claim for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. BI coverage pays for these damages. If someone has damages that are greater than your policy limits, that person might be able to collect the excess directly from you.
There is also “property damage” (“PD”) coverage for the property of others if you are fault. Usually, $50,000 to $100,000 is sufficient and insurance companies won’t offer more, although with some luxury cars, there could be more damage than that. This coverage is not just for another person’s automobile, it can also cover property damage if you drive off a road and hit a fence or a building.
Uninsured and Underinsurance
Lately, many people have cut back on their insurance coverage and sometimes the person that is at fault has either no coverage – which is illegal in most states – or limited coverage. Therefore, the insurance companies offer “uninsured” (“UM”) coverage which covers you if the other person is at fault and has either no insurance or limited insurance (called “underinsurance” (“UIM”) coverage). These usually can be up to the maximum of your BI coverage, and many people recommend at least $300,000. Thus, if you are injured by the negligence of another driver, and that driver only has the state’s minimum coverage or has no coverage, your own policy can step in and pay damages to you for up to the greater amount that you have purchased. For instance, if you are seriously injured by another driver who has $25,000 coverage and you have $300,000 coverage, you can collect the $25,000 from the other driver’s insurance company and up to another $275,000 from your own insurance company. Because the accident was not your fault, your premiums should stay the same.
“Comprehensive” covers your vehicle’s damage or theft unrelated to an accident (perhaps a rock breaking the windshield) or if the cause of the damage is unknown (perhaps a parking lot scrape when you return to your car).
"Collision" differs from "comprehensive" in that it only applies if you are in an accident. If so, regardless of who is at fault, the coverage provides protection to replace or repair your vehicle, subject to a deductible. Often if there's a question about who is at fault, you will first get your car repaired under your own insurance coverage. Later, if you are found not to be at fault through intra-insurance company arbitration, your insurance company will pay you back your deductible. Sometimes, the repair costs become part of a claim against the other driver.
PIP or MedPay
Some states, such as the District of Columbia, have mandatory no fault coverage, Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”), and an election period following an accident to choose whether to attempt to get money from the other driver or from your own policy. Most states, like Maryland, have PIP coverage available up to $10,000, but it can be waived. PIP coverage pays for you and your passengers’ medical bills and lost wages without having to sue the other driver. Some states, such as Virginia, have medical payment (“MedPay”) coverage, similar to PIP coverage, but without lost wages coverage. These various plans cover your bills (and wages) often even if they’re covered by health insurance or you recover from the other side. Because this coverage applies whether you’re at fault or not – and thus you’re more likely to use it than other coverage – and because most lawyers, including the Kamerow Law Firm, don’t take a fee for collecting this money, many people recommend the highest coverage available.
Comparative and contributory negligence explained?
Why do some people win money for injuries that they causeD?
Most states allow people to collect money from others even if that person is partially at fault. Here’s an example of how this happens: A driver stops to pump gas into her car. When she is finished, she has to walk to the office to pay. She looks on the ground and sees an oily film covering the path to the office. Instead of walking around the area, the driver walks right through the middle of the soiled area. The oily film turns out to be slippery and the driver falls and breaks her hip. Isn’t it the driver’s fault for not walking around the slippery area? In Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and Alabama, the answer is probably yes, and the driver cannot collect damages, because these states follow what's called "contributory negligence." But in all other states, the law allows the jury to determine how much of the injury was caused by the driver and how much was caused by the service station. If the driver can show that she was less at fault than the gas station, then she can win! A jury might find that the driver was 25% at fault and that her damages are $100,000. The judge would then award the driver $75,000, or the portion of the damages that were caused by the service station. If the jury had found that the driver was 51% at fault, then there would have been no exchange of money. This rule is called “comparative negligence” and it is often the reason why people who appear to have contributed to their injuries are allowed to collect money from some other negligent person.
Isn't this unfair?
This is not necessarily unfair. The gas station created a situation where one of its customers might get hurt. They could have avoided the problem by cleaning up the area or by placing cones to insure that nobody could walk in that area until it was cleaned up. The gas station owner didn’t do this and thus created a dangerous situation. In a comparative negligence state, the injured person only obtains money for that portion of the injury which the jury determines was caused by the other person, so the injured person still has to pay for her own portion of the fault. In states where the law is not comparative negligence, the gas station owner gets away with creating the dangerous situation as long as the injured person is even minimally at fault. This law is called “contributory negligence.” In such a situation, if the gas station owner can show that the injured person was even 1% at fault, then the injured person can collect nothing.
DC, Maryland and Virginia all follow the law of Contributory Negligence
In the jurisdictions of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the law of contributory negligence controls. This law makes it harder to win contested liability cases as only the smallest amount of negligence by the injured person. Thus, in our jurisdictions, someone who is hardly at fault may not be able to collect money from the person who overwhelmingly caused an injury. Call the Kamerow Law Firm if you have a question about this situation.