Automobile accidents are among the most common grounds for litigation. Here are some things you should know to help avoid a lawsuit or help increase your odds of prevailing if you are involved in a suit.
What You Need to Know About Automobile Insurance
When asked what type of automobile coverage they have, many people simply answer “full coverage,” but full coverage means different things to different people. In this article, we will address what full coverage actually is and why some people who believe they have “full coverage” actually leave themselves exposed.
law requires that every owner or registrant of an automobile in the State possess automobile insurance. However, the only automobile insurance coverages required by law are property damage liability in the amount of at least $10,000.00 and personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. Many people mistakenly believe that if they meet the requirements under law, they have full coverage. As the descriptions of the various categories of automobile insurance below indicate, the requirements constitute a very bare minimum and rarely adequately protect those involved in automobile accidents. The statutory minimum alone does not constitute full coverage. Essential coverages, including bodily injury coverage, uninsured motorist coverage, and collision are not required by law.
Categories of automobile insurance coverage can be described as follows.
Most automobile insurance companies offer each of the preceding coverages. However, some automobile insurance companies sell you their company’s insurance policy based on low rate rather than coverage. While we all like to save money, be mindful that the lowest rate may not include full coverage, or even all of the coverages you need in the amount you need them. Some of the ways insurance companies offer low rates, but inadequate coverage, include having low policy limits of property damage liability (most cars are worth more than $10,000) and bodily injury coverage; selling PIP insurance with a deductible of up to $1000 (the deductible was originally included for people with other health insurance, but now means you must pay the first $1000 in medical bills); and not including collision, uninsured motorist coverage, or medical payments coverage in the policy.
In our firm’s personal injury practice, we experience first hand the problems encountered by those who are inadequately insured. Having adequate amounts of both bodily injury coverage and property damage liability is very important. If you are the at-fault party in an automobile accident, having inadequate coverage can leave you personally liable for the other party’s property damage or personal injuries. Having uninsured motorist coverage is also very important. It is truly unfortunate how often in our practice we see people who are seriously injured in automobile accidents that are not their fault, but the at-fault party is uninsured or underinsured. In these instances, a person without uninsured motorist coverage is left with no recovery or insufficient recovery for their injuries and medical expenses. Whether or not you are the at-fault party, having a PIP deductible leaves you personally responsible for your medical expenses incurred as a result of the automobile accident up to the amount of the deductible.
In conclusion, it is our experience that there is no exact definition of “full coverage.” However, if your coverage includes adequate amounts of property damage liability and bodily injury coverage, PIP coverage with no deductible, uninsured motorist coverage, collision and medical payments coverage, you should be properly insured if you are involved in an automobile accident. We suggest you review your automobile insurance policies to determine if you have adequate insurance coverage. If you find out that you have inadequate insurance after you have had an accident, it is too late.
We would be pleased to review your coverages with you if you would call us.
What to Do If You Are Involved in a Motor Vehicle Accident
In the unfortunate event that you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, it is necessary to protect your legal rights. The items listed below are a few guidelines to assist you after an accident:
Do not leave the scene of the accident You should leave your vehicle as close as possible to the place of impact, and, of course, out of the way of traffic.
Notify emergency personnel and police You should contact the police first, and, if there are injured persons, have the police call for an ambulance or emergency personnel.
Make the scene safe After an accident, there may be debris in the roadway, or there may be vehicles in the road that cannot be moved. You will need to protect other vehicles traveling in that area from these dangers. For example, put on your flashing or hazard lights, particularly if it is dark outside. If you have flares or reflectors in your vehicle, these should be placed so as to warn oncoming traffic of the dangers ahead. It is also a good idea to raise the hood of your vehicle, so long as there is not a concern that there may be engine-related damage (fire hazard).
Identify witnesses In many accidents, there may be a question as to which party is at fault. Under these circumstances, it is very important to identify witnesses who can later testify regarding the facts of the accident. The potential witness should be identified immediately, as they could leave the scene before the police arrive, and may never be found at a later date.
Do not admit responsibility for the accident Statements you make at the accident scene may later be used against you in the event that you make a claim or have your case heard before a jury. In many circumstances, an individual may feel responsible for an accident, only to later find out that the other vehicle was actually at fault or shared some responsibility for causing the accident. It is important to be honest with the police. However, this does not require the unsolicited statements regarding liability for the accident.
Make notes of the accident scene You will want to make notes of the accident scene, including the time of day, weather conditions, road conditions, length of skid marks, and street lights. You may also want to make a diagram of the accident scene, including placement of crosswalks, traffic signals, stop signs and other traffic signs, etc. In addition, it is important to preserve evidence at the scene of the accident. For example, in many accidents, your vehicle’s seatbelts may not function properly. It is important to document that fact, and to have the vehicle examined by someone well versed in seatbelt safety. If your vehicle is totaled after the accident, you will want to have such an inspection before salvaging the vehicle.
Exchange information After the accident, it is important to obtain information from the other drivers involved in the wreck. You will want to obtain the following information, at a minimum:
Medical care If you are having any type of pain or physical problems at the scene, it is important that you seek medical care as soon as possible. If there is any concern regarding your ability to drive, or whether your vehicle can be safely driven after the accident, you may consider transport by ambulance to a local hospital. In any event, you will want to consult a doctor regarding the accident, as doctors are trained to recognize and treat injuries which sometimes are not readily apparent to you.
Consult an attorney If you have questions regarding your rights after an accident, you should contact an attorney who specializes in insurance or personal injury law. Most attorneys do not charge a fee for an initial consultation, and will be able to answer the questions you will have following an accident. Even if you were issued a ticket following an accident, that does not necessarily mean that you are guilty of the traffic offense or are responsible for the accident. You should not settle your injury claim until you have consulted a physician to understand the nature and extent of your injuries. Not all accidents result in a claim being made. However, you need to protect your legal rights in the event that it becomes necessary to pursue such a claim. Our firm has concentrated its practice on assisting those injured in automobile accidents, injured by defective products, and by the carelessness of others and obtaining fair compensation for their injuries.