Protecting Yourself in Tough Economic Times

Protecting yourself in tough economic times can be as simple as evaluating your insurance coverage. Partner, Casey Johnson, explains how drivers and automobile owners can ensure their investments and assets are protected.

Accidents happen no matter how high or how low the unemployment rate. As individuals struggle to make ends meet, they are more likely to cut out all but the most necessary of expenses (food, clothing and shelter). For many, this means choosing not to carry automobile insurance – even though they continue to drive. In addition to the economic difficulty of paying such a bill when times are tough, the decision is further reinforced as illustrated by the saying “you cannot get blood from a turnip.” In essence, even if the uninsured driver is at fault for causing an accident and is subsequently sued for damages, since the uninsured driver has no money or assets, he or she is judgment proof. This scenario plays itself out across the state and throughout the nation every day, and is particularly troubling given that technological distractions increasingly compete for drivers’ attention, not the least of which is texting.

But there is something people can do to help protect themselves, even if they are injured in an accident that is not their fault. Uninsured Motorist (UM) and Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage are available to all drivers in California. This relatively inexpensive coverage is a simple way for California drivers to provide themselves with an added layer of protection in these tough economic times.

In a nutshell, if you happen to cause an accident that causes someone to suffer injuries your insurance company can be held responsible to that person up to the limits of your liability or bodily injury (BI) coverage. Therefore, most people assume that if they have substantial enough liability or BI coverage, they are fully protected. But what if you are injured by another driver who does not have insurance? Don’t you want to protect yourself at least as much as you are protecting someone else you accidentally injure?

The following example, regarding client Jane Doe, frequently presents itself. Jane Doe was a responsible driver who obtained automobile insurance with liability/bodily injury limits of $250,000 per person, up to $500,000 per accident. Thus, if Jane Doe causes an accident and injures others, her insurance company can be held responsible for up to $250,000 for injuries sustained by any one person andup to a total limit of $500,000 if several people are injured. However, Jane Doe obtained UM/UIM coverage of only $30,000 per person, up to $60,000 per accident. This means that Jane Doe is protecting others she might injure for up to half a million dollars, but if Jane Doe herself is injured in an automobile collision by someone who does not have insurance, she can only seek coverage from her own insurer up to $30,000.

The statutory scheme for UM/UIM coverage in California causes these scenario to be played out repeatedly. The California Insurance Code requires that insurance companies offer UM/UIM coverage in an amount equal to liability limits , but only up to a maximum of $30,000/$60,000 (as presented in the example, above). The Insurance Code similarly requires a client purchasing insurance to sign a waiver if they do not want UM/UIM coverage at all, or if they have $30,000/$60,000 liability coverage and want only $15,000/$30,0000 in UM/UIM coverage. However, the Insurance Code does not require an insurance company to provide UM/UIM limits in an amount equal to the liability coverage, nor does it require an insurance company to explain that although someone may be buying large liability/bodily injury limits, by having much smaller UM/UIM coverage, they are not protecting themselves.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this issue is the fact that UM/UIM coverage is much less expensive than liability coverage. For example, I currently represent a young woman who has insurance with a very large insurance company. She has liability coverage of $100,000 per person, up to $300,000 per accident, which costs her $285 every six months. She also has $100,000/$300,000 UM/UIM coverage, which costs only $44 every six months. Thus, compared to the cost she pays to protect others she may injure, it only costs her 15% as much to protect herself at the same level.

In a world of increasingly uninsured and distracted drivers, where the cost of medical care continues to rise, it is as important as ever to make sure that you are providing yourself with proper protection against such uninsured drivers.