Coverage Tragedies

By Joyce Novotny-Prettiman, Esquire

It is amazing to us when we hear the suggestions in conversation and in the media that people "hit it rich" because they have a lawsuit. This concept is so far from the truth that it actually makes us cringe. In fact, it is more often the case that people come to our office for help only to find that there is not sufficient insurance coverage to compensate them for their losses. It is a fact that most lawsuits get settled before trial – however, it is a less known truth that many lawsuits get settled because the insurance coverage available is woefully inadequate to cover the damages suffered by someone injured in an accident.

Here's a true story to demonstrate such a situation:

Our office got a call from a father in late August of 2011. He was terribly worried about his daughter, who had been involved in an accident while traveling to work in East McKeesport. A drunk driver of an oncoming SUV had crossed the center line of the roadway and struck his daughter's car head-on, causing life-threatening injuries. He felt so lucky she was alive. They had to deal with the frightening news that her foot might need to be amputated. Over the course of 6 months, she underwent a total of four surgeries. He knew that, with these types of injuries, his daughter would not be able to work for some time. He contacted our office for assistance in taking care of the insurance and medical billing matters that she could not attend to while in the hospital.

When we met with this gentleman and his daughter in the hospital, we assured them that we would help. We learned that her injuries included severe abdominal injuries, a left forearm fracture and a severe right ankle fracture. After this young lady's inpatient stay of 10 days, she was released to a rehab facility because she could not care for herself at home. Her hospital bills alone were in excess of $327,000.

The first step was to determine how much insurance coverage was available. The driver who caused this collision carried the minimum insurance coverage required in Pennsylvania, which is $15,000 of liability insurance. That amount was offered to settle the claims against this at-fault driver. This coverage was of course inadequate to compensate our client for her injuries. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that a person who is injured can make a recovery from an at fault driver for any money in excess of the insurance policy limits. Next, we turned to her auto insurance policy. We found that the underinsured motorist coverage in effect at the time of the collision was only $25,000. Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is not required under Pennsylvania law, but is coverage you can purchase to protect yourself if injured by a driver with little or no liability insurance. The difficult news that we had to deliver to our client was that there was a grand total of $40,000 of insurance coverage available.

After this woman recovered to the point that she could discuss her insurance coverage, she called her agent. She learned that adequate coverage would have been only a few dollars more per month. She could have afforded it. She wants us to tell our clients to be informed about their auto insurance coverage BEFORE they have an accident.

You should make a call and find out from your insurance agent how much uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage you have in place. After you learn that amount, think to yourself, "could that coverage begin to help me put my life back together if I was in a serious auto collision?" If your answer is no, get more underinsured motorist coverage immediately. You cannot control what other drivers do on the road — but know what you can control. You can control the amount of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage that you purchase as part of your auto insurance coverage.

This situation repeats itself over and over again when we talk to clients about auto accidents. The attorneys at QR are happy to review your auto insurance coverage with you free of charge. Call for an appointment and prevent this type of situation from happening to you and your loved ones.