Last week I posted a blog about Leaving Money on the Table. Today, I am discussing something much more exciting and equally as interesting: finding extra insurance money. The starting point again is Uninsured Motorists coverage, also known as under-insured motorists coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage is like standby insurance in case you, a family member or someone in your car gets hurt by a driver with no insurance, or not enough insurance.
In today’s tough economy lots of people are driving bare, with no insurance. Driving without the mandatory insurance can result in a suspension of a driver’s license. Continuing to drive after suspension of driving privileges can land a driver in jail. Letting someone drive who has a suspended license may result in the seizure and forfeiture of the vehicle under the Florida Contraband and Forfeiture Act. So, people who need their cars should think twice before doing a favor by letting a suspended driver use it.
I can’t tell you how many times a client has come in and says he thought he had “full coverage.” It often turns out he has the bare bones minimum policy. When I hear this I make it a point to carefully question him about how his policy was issued. In Florida all that is required is $10,000 in property damages and personal injury protection (PIP). Liability and UM are not mandatory.
UM insurance is bought either by the company you work for or from your own insurance company. It is intended to protect you if someone hits you without any or enough insurance. If you were injured while driving a company vehicle by another driver who was uninsured or underinsured you should check with your company to see if it ever signed a written rejection of UM coverage.
Whenever a new liability insurance policy is issued a written rejection or election about UM must be made. Florida auto insurance law has changed this simple rule into a complex legal maze. The insured must decide:
- Do I want any uninsured motorists coverage? (Y/N) If NO, a Rejection is signed. The insurance company is off the hook if it gets this decision in writing.
- If Yes, do I want to buy UM coverage for the same amount as my liability coverage or some lesser amount?
- Do I want to stack my UM coverage?
The statute is FS 627.727(1) which in part reads:
“(1) No motor vehicle liability insurance policy which provides bodily injury liability coverage shall be delivered or issued for delivery in this state with respect to any specifically insured or identified motor vehicle registered or principally garaged in this state unless uninsured motor vehicle coverage is provided therein or supplemental thereto for the protection of persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness, or disease, including death, resulting therefrom. However, the coverage required under this section is not applicable when, or to the extent that, an insured named in the policy makes a written rejection of the coverage on behalf of all insureds under the policy…”
The statute goes on to allow only the lessee decided whether to accept or reject UM coverage if a car is rented for more than one year.
So what does this legal mumbo jumbo mean? Well, if your own insurance company does not have a written rejection in its file from you, (or your employer) then it is on the hook for any damages the uninsured driver caused you. It is as if your own insurance company gave you extra insurance for free. It cannot bill you for the UM coverage after the claim as a condition to providing it to you. That was the exact holding in Mercury Insurance Company v Anatkov, 929 So.2d 624 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2006). Better yet, once the insurance company denies you UM benefits, it is required to pick up the tab for your attorneys fees too! And if your employer did not sign off on getting UM coverage, you can make a claim for UM benefits through your company’s liability insurance company. That was the holding in Travelers Ins. Co. v Quirk, 583 So. 2d 1026 (Fla. 1991).
Bottom line: If there is no signed rejection of UM coverage, your own insurance may have to pay you uninsured motorists benefits. In a case where serious injuries have occurred, the rejection should always be checked.