not just for the elderly

Every week people come into our office who have the misfortune of being injured in an automobile crash to no fault of their own.  Often times, these people are victimized twice because the person who negligently struck them either had no insurance or, worse yet, and increasingly frequent, the at fault party leaves the scene of the crash without leaving any information, known as a hit and run.  When meeting with these clients, they undoubtedly, and over optimistically, tell us, “Don’t worry, I have full coverage”.  Inevitably we watch their faces sink as we tell them that this phrase (probably given by an ill-informed insurance agent) has no meaning in the law.

Florida is known as a “No-Fault” state.  This simply means that the law requires you to have what is known as No-Fault insurance or Personal Injury Protection or PIP coverage.  This coverage pays your medical bills and lost wages at 80%, up to $10,000.00, so long as you have treated medically within Fourteen days of the crash and you have a qualified medical provider determine your treatment results from an Emergency Medical Condition.  This amount of coverage can easily be consumed with one E.R. visit post-crash.  In addition, this coverage can leave you to pay the remaining 20% of the outstanding balance.  This is the coverage most people associate with “Full Coverage”, when in fact, it is the bare minimum one must have to legally drive in Florida.  So, what does PIP not cover?  The easy answer is nothing more than 80% of your medical bills up to $10,000.00. The better answer to what PIP does not cover is everything else.

Many people do not realize that if the other driver does not have insurance of any kind or the crash results in a hit and run, No Fault insurance does not cover the cost of the car repairs.  This again is an extra insurance known as Comprehensive and Collision coverage.  Again, many potential clients come into our office believing they have “Full Coverage”, who unfortunately cannot afford to have their only means of transportation repaired because they did not understand that the term “Full Coverage” has no real meaning under the law.

The most disappointing scenario we see is when the potential client requires medical care beyond $10,000.00 and they continue to suffer physically.  The insurance we look for from the person who causes the crash is known as Bodily Injury Coverage (BI).  This is an insurance that the at fault party would carry to protect themselves from exposure to a personal judgment.  Amazingly, in Florida, Bodily Injury Insurance is not required to be purchased in order to drive on our highways.  (The injustice behind this law may be for another article).  So, a person causes a crash, has no insurance and no assets and you, as the victim, are victimized a second time if you believe you have “Full Coverage” not knowing what that really means.

So what auto insurance should you have to protect yourself from these scenarios of injustice.  Well, in order to protect yourself from others, since the Florida Legislature has decided not to pass laws to make the at fault party responsible for their negligence, we always recommend that our clients pay for the following insurance coverages:  Personal Injury Protection, Bodily Injury, Underinsured Motorist, Uninsured Motorist and Comprehensive and Collision.  If you owe more on your vehicle than it is worth, we also recommend what is known as “gap” insurance.  Clients generally don’t realize that Underinsured Motorist and Uninsured Motorist Coverage known as UM/UIM, is part of a package which costs only a relatively small amount more if you are already paying for Bodily Injury Coverage.  Remember, Bodily Injury Coverage pays on your behalf if you caused the crash but  UM/UIM can pay you in the event the other person causes the crash and does not have sufficient or any insurance.

The next time you get behind the wheel of your car, don’t assume you have “Full Coverage”.  Take a look at your policy and make sure you have Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage, along with Comprehensive and Collison Coverage.  After all, we live in Orlando and you probably drive on I-4 or the 408, which are constantly under construction and where crashes seem to be an everyday fact of life.  Don’t rely on the person next to you to have insurance that will compensate you for losses.  Instead, take the necessary steps to educate yourself and protect yourself and your loved ones.  Don’t be victimized a second time by the empty phrase “Full Coverage”; empower yourself with actually having meaningful auto insurance coverage.

Jason J. Recksiedler Partner with NeJame Law & Mark NeJame jointly contributed to this article