All too often a client’s inability to be fully compensated for personal injuries boils down to a lack of insurance coverage. While you can’t control the actions of other drivers on the roadway, you can financially protect yourself from the damages they cause. You have the ability to decide for yourself the amount of coverage that is necessary to protect you and your family in the event of a catastrophic personal injury.
My son celebrated his 16th birthday with only one present on his wish list: a ride to the the secretary of state’s office to get his drivers license. He had been awaiting this teenage rite of passage for months and his excitement was only outweighed by my parental anxiety. Having represented hundreds of seriously injured accident victims over the last 23 years, I am well aware of the risks he will face every time he pulls out of the driveway. While I cannot prevent him from getting into an accident there is one thing I can do. See to it that he is properly insured in the event an accident should occur.
In Illinois, the law requires every driver to maintain liability insurance on their vehicle. This coverage is triggered when a driver ‘s negligence is the cause of an accident. It is designed to compensate someone injured by the driver with the payment of medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages. Unfortunately, not everyone takes this law seriously. According to a 2006 study released by the Insurance Research Council, 4 out of every 25 drivers on Illnois roadways do not have any liablity insurance. Take a trip to Wisconsin and 7 out of every 50 drivers will be uninsured. Cross the Mississippi river into Davenport or Dubuque and your odds of getting hit by someone without insurance go down. Only 3 out of every 25 drivers will be uninsured. Cross your fingers and pray that the driver who hits you has been responsible enough to buy a policy.
So what happens if you are injured by an uninsured driver? You can realistically forget about recovering any damages from that person. The Ilinois Department of Transportation estimated that in 2006, there were 13,272 uninsured motorists who did not pay for damages caused by their actions. While you can file suit against an uninsured driver, the likelihood of collecting any money is virtually nonexistent under most circumstances.
Even if the at fault driver does have liability coverage, chances are it is not enough. Illinois law requires drivers to only maintain a minimum of $20,000.00 in liability coverage. The cost of basic medical care and household expenses have gone through the roof. Anyone who has been hospitalized or missed a month or more of work knows that $20,000.00 will not go very far.
Since you cannot rely on others to do what is right, you have to protect yourself. Pull out your automobile policy and look at what you have been paying those premiums for all these years. From my experience representing injury victims, often times people have no understanding of the coverages available to them under their policy. The medical coverage you see will pay for medical expenses incurred in an accident regardless of who was at fault. The uninsured motorist coverage will pay you for damages caused by an uninsured driver up to the limits indicated. The underinsured coverage will kick in if your damages exceed the amount of liabilty coverage maintained by the at fault driver. However, the underinsured limits stated in your policy will in most cases be reduced by the amount of coverage maintained by the other driver. Now ask yourself if you are comfortable putting your family behind the wheel with the dollar amount of coverage you have purchased.
Unfortunately, buying sufficient insurance coverage is not the end of the story. Should it be necessary to assert a claim for any of these coverages, chances are that your own carrier will now treat you like a claimant as opposed to the “valued customer” referenced in their premium invoices. The insurance policy is a contract containing numerous conditions and exclusions, all inserted to protect the insurance company, not the insured. If a carrier can deny a claim, it will. Consult an attorney immediately if your claim is denied or with any questions about how to obtain benefits from the policy you have purchased.