How You Can Prepare Yourself for Uninsured Drivers
Imagine this nightmare scenario: you’re seriously injured in an auto accident, and the person who hit you doesn’t have any insurance. True, they are driving illegally in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as our state’s laws require all motorists to be insured. Unfortunately, that scofflaw’s actions will not help you pay your medical bills or recover your lost wages when you can’t work due to your injuries. Suing the at-fault driver may not do much good either since they probably have nothing to give you. They were likely driving uninsured because they could not afford to pay even the modest premiums associated with minimum coverage policies. This is the case for millions across the United States. So what happens now?
If you only have minimum coverage yourself, your insurance will only pay up to $15,000 for bodily injury per person per accident (with a limit of $30,000 per incident), and we all know that doesn’t add up to much in modern American medicine. Uninsured (UM) and underinsured (UIM) motorist coverage is available for purchase with all policies, but since it’s not required in our state, many drivers skip it, and minimum coverage policies definitely do not include it. Obviously, our Pennsylvania minimum insurance requirements are designed to save drivers money on premiums, which is important, but the downside is this budget coverage may actually prove quite costly.
Let’s look at how you can protect yourself from the uninsured and underinsured drivers who are on the roads with you and assure that you have all the coverage you need to avoid the misery of financial problems following an accident.
What Coverage Do I Really Need?
In Pennsylvania, you are required to purchase bodily injury and property damage liability coverage, as well as a basic medical expense benefit on your car insurance policy. Anything less is illegal. Unfortunately, the minimum limits of these coverages, or how much the policy will pay in the event of an accident, are minimal. To illustrate, you are only required to carry $15,000 per person/$30,000 per occurrence bodily injury liability limits. Additionally, $5,000 of property damage liability protection and a $5,000 medical benefit are required. This means that many people will find themselves in the “underinsured” category after severe accidents, especially considering average costs for bodily injury claims have been over $15,000 nationwide since 2013. And these coverages certainly do not do much to protect you from uninsured or hit-and-run drivers.
The general recommendation when it comes to auto insurance is to purchase as much coverage as you can comfortably afford. Sure, this may sound like the insurance industry just trying to make more money on premiums, but this is a recommendation that risk management professionals and experienced personal injury attorneys like us here at Westmoreland Injury Lawyers also advocate. Limits that we suggest for adequate protection on those three PA state-required coverages are as follows:
- Bodily Injury Liability: $100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident
- Personal Property Liability: $100,000
- Medical Coverage Benefit: $100,000 plus extraordinary coverage to $1 million
We also recommend that you purchase the following optional coverages with appropriate limits. This is where your best protection against uninsured drivers comes into play. Moreover, we urge you to carefully consider the funeral benefit option – it does not typically add much to premium costs and can be very helpful if the absolute worst should happen.
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage: $100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident – Stacked
- Underinsured Motorist Coverage: $100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident – Stacked
- Income or Wage Loss Benefit: $2,500 per month/$50,000 maximum
- Funeral Benefit: $1,500
A Note about Comprehensive and Collision Coverage
As you’re working with your insurance agent or getting a car insurance quote online, you’ll see the terms “comprehensive” and “collision” in addition to all of the coverage terms we’ve already discussed. These options fall under the category of vehicle insurance as opposed to the liability and medical coverage that Pennsylvania requires to protect drivers. While our state doesn’t force you to cover the value of your vehicle itself by purchasing comprehensive or collision coverage, lenders often do. If you financed your car when you bought it, your lender likely required both of these. It’s also prudent to carry both to truly protect yourself. While these coverages are not directly designed to keep you protected from uninsured drivers, they do cover theft and specific accidental vehicle damages caused by others’ criminality and negligence.
Full Tort vs. Limited Tort
In the legal field, we often think about torts, but we realize this term may be unfamiliar to many of our clients. When you’re shopping for auto insurance, you will be asked whether you want to elect full tort or limited tort. You should be full tort! The limited tort option may save you a little money on your premium, but if you are injured in an accident, the limited tort option can be devastating for you and your family (a limited tort election extends to you and every family member residing in your household).
In a nutshell, limited tort means that you are unable to make a claim for bodily injury unless certain exceptions are met (such as being hit by a drunk driver). In most cases, a limited tort individual is unable to make a claim unless they have suffered injuries that are so severe as to result in serious impairment of a bodily function or permanent serious disfigurement. We have seen people who suffer immensely from auto accident injuries which we are unable to assist because they signed away their rights with a limited tort election. Don’t let that happen to you and your family. Elect full tort.
Should I Stack Coverage?
In our recommendations about uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage above, you may have noticed the term “stacked.” Stacking your coverage effectively increases the limits on UM and UIM coverages based on how many vehicles you’re insuring. If your household includes at least two vehicles, including motorcycles, stacking your coverage is a wise choice, mainly because you can either stack within a single policy or stack across multiple policies. This means that when an uninsured driver hits you, your $100,000 limit on a stacked policy including three cars, for instance, will actually provide $300,000 of coverage. Not all states allow for coverage stacking, but Pennsylvania extends this protective benefit to drivers to assure that responsible people do not suffer unfairly from others’ irresponsible actions.
Have you been involved in an accident caused by an uninsured driver, or do you simply have questions about how Pennsylvania’s insurance laws and requirements affect your rights? If you’re located in the Greensburg, PA area, Westmoreland Injury Lawyers is your car accident firm. Get in contact with us today to discuss your unique needs, and we’ll help you determine whether you have a case for FREE.