Friday, October 21, 2011

What Auto Coverage Do You REALLY Have if You're Injured While Driving A Company Car?

If you are driving a company car, you may have NO uninsured or underinsured insurance coverage (known as "UM/UIM") to protect you and your family if you're involved in a serious crash. This can happen even if you're told by your employer that your company car has "full coverage." Here’s what can happen and what you need to know in order to avoid a “no coverage” gap.

The scenario: You were told by someone in your company that the company car has “full coverage.” Or, perhaps you simply assumed it. Months or years later, you are seriously injured in a crash by an uninsured motorist (no liability coverage) or an underinsured motorist (someone with low liability limits). You miss months or years of work, or worse yet can't return to your job because of your injuries.

You come to learn that your “full coverage” on the company car did not include uninsured/underinsured motorists coverage because your company declined the coverage (perfectly legal in Ohio and other states). Problem: nobody ever explained that to you before the crash...

If you were injured on the job, workers compensation laws MIGHT cover your bills and a portion of your lost wages. But what about compensation for the rest of your wages, and your permanent injuries? Worse yet, what if you weren't on the job at the time of the crash?

How do you avoid huge monetary losses and possibly bankruptcy over a collision that was not your fault while driving a car you were told had "full coverage?" There are basically two things you can do to find out whether your employer has purchased any UM/UIM coverage at all, or enough to protect you. First, ask your HR department or someone in charge of insurance matters: “Is there UM/UIM coverage on my car and what is the amount of coverage?” Ask to see a copy of the “Declarations Sheet” for your car. But what if you are not comfortable asking this for fear of “making waves?” There is still something you can do.

Ask your personal auto agent who insures your family vehicle(s) about purchasing “Drive Other Car” coverage. This coverage basically covers you for other autos that you drive that you do not own. You may ask: “Why doesn't MY auto insurance cover me when I drive another car?”

Welcome to the world of more fine print “exclusions” in your policy. Buried in your policy is probably a “non-covered auto” exclusion. It basically says that your auto policy does not cover you when you drive another vehicle you do not own when it is made “available for your regular use.” And if your company car is “made available for your regular use,” bingo – the exclusion applies, and you’ve now got no coverage.

Here's the beauty of asking your agent about purchasing “drive other car” coverage. He or she will be able to find out from your employer whether your company car has UM/UIM coverage as a means of determining whether you even need to purchase this coverage.

These simple steps will close this potential “no coverage” gap on your company car.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What To Do If "The Insurance Adjuster Is Coming To My House To Offer Me A Settlement."

Dallas, Texas Attorney Jeff Rasansky hit the nail on the head recently in his post about insurance companies' recent amped up tactics to immediately cash out auto accident victims' injury claims with "offers" of settlements within days of a crash.

This tactic is not limited to Texas and has infiltrated into Ohio for quite some time now. In fact, let me share a similar experience on an Ohio auto collision/personal injury case I am handling that proves this is becoming an all too familiar tactic.

A few moths ago, a client calls me. She is a mother of three children, including a nine month old child. She's taking her two children to elementary school, along with two neighbor kids and her nine month old child. She's rear ended at a high rate of speed while attempting to turn into the school lot. All the children are taken to the ER to be evaluated. She declines treatment because she's concerned about getting all the kids evaluated (imagine the chaos of having your three kids in the ER along with the neighbor kids).

The next day, an adjuster shows up at Mom's house and writes checks for $250 for each kid and her. She leaves some "releases" for Mom to sign, meaning that by accepting the checks and signing the releasee, the claim will be over and closed. She eventually cashes the checks, but does not sign the releases. In the meantime, she starts to develop neck and back pain and calls a chiropractor to get checked out.

She informs the adjuster the next that she's seeing a chiropractor to be evaluated. The adjuster informs her that her claim is over and therefore they will not honor or pay for any medical bills. Mom tells friendly adjuster that she did not even have a chance to be seen for her injuries in the ER and that she did not sign any release. Too bad, says the adjuster: claim over since Mom cashed the checks. Mom returns the checks and writes a letter to the adjuster indicating that she had no intention of closing out her claim. The letter is ignored.

After hiring me, I write the friendly adjuster and ask that the claim be re-opened. I'm told in no uncertain terms to pound salt. The next day, a lawsuit is filed. Eventually, I get a call from an attorney for the insurance company, informing me that the insurance company is now backing off and honoring the claim.

It took a lawsuit to expose and nullify this strong arm tactic. Here's the insurance company's playbook: get to auto accident victims as soon as possible, throw an immediate, small amount of money at these folks in a bad economy, and play the "you settled your claim" card if the person seeks medical treatment even a few days after the collision. This tactic is a well organized scheme to pray on folks who are vulnerable or innocently ignorant about how the claims process works.

So what's the solution here? Simple. Decline the friendly adjuster's invitation to come to the house and "talk" about your claim. You should tell them that if they want to send somebody to appraise your car, that's OK, but you should never discuss any potential personal injury claim with them immediately after the collision. It's simply not in your best interests to do so. Between these shenanigans and all the other "routine paperwork" thay may ask you to sign (like a blank medical authorization giving them a license to fish around in your medical history), you may well sign your rights away and be stuck down the road if you develop a medical problem down the road.

Bottom line: they are not coming to your house to be "fair" to you. They're coming to cash you out and cut off their potential losses and liability. That's all you really need to remember...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Read On If You Think You Have A "Full Coverage" Policy On Your Motorcycle Or Scooter

Client is T-boned at an intersection while on a scooter. Bad injuries--they usually are when scooter or motorcycle meets car. Ankle fracture and two shoulder surgeries for a total of 3 surgeries. Lots of physical therapy lasting well over a year and medical bills approaching $40,000.

The negligent driver who caused the collision? He had only $100,000 liability limits. Not nearly enough to compensate the injured person for all of her injuries. Before the crash, she was sold a "full coverage" policy that included $25,000 in Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists' (UM/UIM) coverage.

Under Ohio law, this policy provides NOT A PENNY of coverage for her. It is a totally useless policy because in order for her to collect a penny of coverage, she has to have more in UM/UIM coverage than the negligent driver had in liability coverage--in this case, more than $100,000. The result? She paid for $25,000 in coverage and gets nothing from her own insurance company. She is limited to the $100,000 liability limits under the negligent driver's policy.

The agent who sold this worthless policy has committed "agent malpractice" in my opinion. Why on earth would an agent sell her such a low policy amount on a scooter or motorcycle knowing that (1) she can't collect any money under her UM/UIM coverage unless she has more in UM/UIM coverage than the liability limits of the negligent driver; and (2) anyone operating a motorcycle or scooter who's on the receiving end of a collision with an automobile is probably going to sustain some serious injuries as a result?

None of this was explained to her when the agent "recommended" this policy. And, by the way, she has to repay her health insurance company out of her settlement for the $40,000 it shelled out for her hospital, surgery, and rehab bills.

Not a good deal at all. All of this could have been avoided if the agent had sold her a policy that included at least a minimum of $250,000 in UM/UIM coverage (I personally would recommend a minimum of $500,000 if not more). Here's the kicker: she probably could have bought $250,000 in coverage for about $100 more per year.

Unfortunately I've seen this scenario over and over and over again. So all of you motorcyclists and scooter riders, do yourself a favor: call your agent and increase your coverage. You'll be glad you did if some irresponsible motorist turns left in front of you or runs a red light...