Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Why Don't You Care About What Happened?"

Our friend and neighbor was involved in an auto accident in Canton recently. This morning I spoke to her husband while walking my awesome "Heinz 57" mixed mutt Shepard. Sarcastically, he asked me why I didn't seem to care what happened to his wife. "We're getting all kinds of letters and DVD's from accident attorneys all over Ohio who are really concerned and want justice for us and we got nothing from you, so I suppose you don't really care about us!"

After we laughed about that, it confirms what I've known to be true for a long time after over twenty years of representing personal injury clients in Ohio: most people are offended by the barrage of solicitation letters they receive after an auto accident. Whether it's a fender bender or a tragedy involving serious injury or death, within days of a crash their mailbox is stuffed like a sausage casing about ready to split. This observation is usually followed by the usual remarks about us being "ambulance chasers" or "parasites" (I could go on with other perjorative phrases but I'll stop there).

Why do firms do this? Because it works well enough to sustain them continuing to do it. And it's cheaper than TV or radio I guess.

So put me in the category of one of those accident attorneys who "don't care" enough to send that stuff. But that's OK. Our phone still rings. And I sleep well at night (except when the dog decides to lap about a half a gallon of water from his special "night" bowl in the bathroom...)

Friday, June 1, 2012


To quote musical icon Neil Young, “You pay for this, but they give you that.” This adage seems to be the recent trend with auto insurance companies who sell policies in Ohio. Lurking in the fine print (that you never see until AFTER you write your premium check) are numerous traps, exclusions and limitations that render your “full coverage” policy worthless after a crash.

Here are a few examples of some recent policies we’ve seen that are infecting the marketplace and leaving injured Ohio auto accident victims on the side of the road.

1. 21st Century Insurance and Its “Opt Out” Underinsured (UIM) Coverage.

Almost all insurance companies sell uninsured motorists’ coverage (known as “UM”) and underinsured motorists’ coverage (“UIM”) together as a package deal. Consider UM and UIM coverage like a set of twins. The “UM” twin will provide coverage for your injuries and losses caused by an “uninsured” motorist. The “UIM” twin will cover your injuries and losses caused by “underinsured” motorists who carry minimal liability insurance. Almost all insurance companies sell UM/UIM coverage together (again, think “twins”). So will 21st Century. But it will also allow you to “opt out” of purchasing underinsured motorists’ coverage in Ohio. A simple example will explain why this is an incredibly stupid option for any insurance company to offer, and why you should avoid it like a hornet’s nest at a picnic.

Let’s say you’ve been hit by an uninsured drunk driver, shattered your ankle, needed surgery with plates and screws, missed five months of work, and racked up $40,000 in medical bills and $10,000 in lost wages.

If you purchased $100,000 in uninsured motorists’ (UM) coverage with your own insurance company, you can make a claim with them for up to $100,000. If your injury claim is worth $100,000, your company has to pay it. That’s why you purchased this coverage.

But what if the drunk driver had state minimum limits of $12,500? This means that the driver was underinsured, meaning he had some insurance but not enough to compensate you for all of your losses. If you purchased 21st Century’s policy and were sold only “uninsured motorists’ coverage,” you’re out of luck. All you can collect is $12,500 from the drunk driver because you “opted out” of UIM coverage. If you had both UM and UIM coverage, you could collect $12,500 from the drunk driver’s insurance company and $87,500 from your own company, for a total of $100,000.

A recent Ohio law change allows insurance companies to separate out UM from UIM coverage. But almost all insurance companies (except 21st Century) still sell it as a package deal, and it makes absolutely no sense to “split the twins” and sell UM but not UIM coverage.

Lesson: Your UIM coverage is just as valuable as your UM coverage. In fact, there are probably more underinsured drivers (with very little liability insurance) than those who are driving uninsured! For not spending $50.00 per year or less on UIM coverage, you are now out $87,500. Do the math – this is a no brainer. Avoid ANY company that tries to sell you UM and not UIM and vice versa!

2. First Acceptance Insurance.

All insurance companies will offer “med pay” coverage which will pay your auto accident medical bills up to the limits of your coverage, whether its $1,000 or $5,000 or whatever amount you purchase. Here’s how it normally works with almost every company but First Acceptance: you simply turn in the bill to your insurance company and they will pay it as long as it’s related to the crash.

Not First Acceptance. Their med pay coverage is a “reimbursement only” policy. Definition: you, as the injured person, have to pay for the bill out of your own pocket first and then First Acceptance will reimburse you!

Here’s the fallacy of this “coverage”: many folks who purchase First Acceptance policies are financially strapped to begin with. Most can’t afford to shell out $1,000 or $5,000 to pay medical bills out of their pocket.

Therefore, despite paying a separate premium for this coverage, you can’t access it unless you first pay your bills out of your own pocket. So what good is this coverage? Not much at all.

And there’s one other item of fine print in First Acceptance’s med pay “coverage”: there’s NO coverage for chiropractic care. Almost all other insurance companies’ medical payments coverage will pay for chiropractic care.

3. Conclusion.

Here’s the common denominator of these policies: purchasers of insurance do not know what questions to ask, and many are sold over the phone. As you can see, how these policies really work in reality can be complicated stuff. Unfortunately, insurance is sold on one guiding principle: price. Just turn on your TV and you’ll hear all about “saving you 15%,” “keeping you legal for less,” and other “discounts.”

The old saying that “you get what you pay for” really does not fit here. The real problem with buying car insurance is that you really don’t know what you’re buying (or better yet what you’ve been sold) until after you’ve been put in the ditch by an irresponsible driver.