Uninsured motorist coverage is the most important insurance Florida drivers should purchase. Unfortunately, the lack of such coverage is a recurring theme in our practice. Recently a prospective client asked me, why should I spend money to purchase coverage that does not benefit me but only the person that hit me? While I explained that the exact opposite is true and it IS the most beneficial insurance available, the potential client was sincerely surprised and moved to remedy the situation immediately.
Florida law only requires the most minimal auto insurance coverage, which provides little if any real protection to the insured. Those requirements are $10,000.00 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage and $10,000.00 in property damage (PD) coverage. PIP is the foundation of Florida’s “no fault” insurance paradigm, where up to 80% of the insured’s medical bills (up to $10,000.00) from an automobile wreck will be paid irrespective of fault. PD provides coverage if the insured causes a wreck, while collision coverage is what the insured can access (if they have purchased it) if they wish to fix their own vehicle. None of these coverages provide any meaningful safety net if our clients are seriously injured and require ongoing medical care. Hence, the imperative of uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) insurance coverage.
UM/UIM coverage, at its essence, is where the insured’s own insurance company “steps into the shoes” of the at-fault driver and allows the insured to file a claim under his or her own insurance for the damages they have suffered. It is undoubtedly the most important automobile insurance that Florida drivers should purchase. It costs relatively little money, and is the ultimate security blanket if our clients are seriously injured by an at-fault driver who either does not have liability insurance or not enough liability insurance.
Several cases of mine illustrate the point.
Most recently, I had a minor client who was seriously injured in a head on wreck while riding as a passenger in a friend’s vehicle. He was hospitalized for several weeks and underwent several surgeries. Such extended hospitalizations invariably entail hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. The at-fault driver carried only the minimally required Florida auto insurance coverages detailed above. Hence, no claim could be made against him.
The insurance on our client’s friend’s vehicle did not include UM/UIM coverage which our client could have made a claim against as a passenger in a covered vehicle. While our client’s family had a modest amount of UM/UIM coverage, it was not nearly enough to compensate for the minor child’s severe injuries. The difference in premiums between a modest amount of UM/UIM coverage and, for example, $500,000 in coverage, is minimal at worst and will be soon forgotten when calamity strikes such as it did for our young client.
Two cases from earlier in my career likewise illustrate the critical role of UM/UIM coverage. Both cases involved drunk drivers and single car wrecks.
In the early 2000s, I had a case that involved a night of drinking in one of the rural counties south of Tallahassee. Our client drank too much and was carried from a bar by his friends and placed in the back of a pickup truck, which of course had no passenger restraints. The driver, an acquaintance of our client’s, unfortunately was also inebriated and shortly thereafter caused a bad wreck. Our client was ejected from the back of the pickup truck and was so seriously injured that he eventually would up in a full body cast for several months.
As it turns out, the drunk driver not only did not carry liability coverage, but had no insurance at all with his policy lapsing several months before the wreck. Our client did not have UM/UIM coverage, nor did his mother with whom he lived. If she did carry UM/UIM coverage, he would have qualified as a “resident relative.” Unfortunately, neither had the coverage which could have afforded him some just compensation for his devastating injuries. Accordingly, try as we may, we were unable to help this poor young man at all.
Another case, from the mid-2000s, is even more tragic in many ways. In a rural county west of Tallahassee, six young girls ranging in age from 11 to 16 years old, hopped into a car with their 19-year old cousin to take a ride to the local convenience store. None of the young girls had a seat belt on and the 19-year old driver had consumed at least 3 beers and was intoxicated. While driving to the store at speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour, the driver lost control of the vehicle and wrapped it around a tree. The results were devastating: a 16-year old passenger died at the scene, and the other girls all suffered serious injuries which required extended hospitalizations.
I eventually came to represent two of the young girls, and quickly determined there was either no or inadequate liability coverage and no UM/UIM coverage available from our clients’ parents. If it had been available, I could have easily secured the policy limits of such coverage as there was no doubt the drunk driver was liable for the wreck and the girls had suffered serious injuries. Alas, that was not the case.
These are but several examples where adequate UM/UIM coverage could have afforded our clients access to justice. So, please safeguard yourself and your families and purchase this indispensable coverage today! You will never regret doing so, especially when you need it the most.
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