By Richard H. Galloway, Esq. and Joyce Novotny-Prettiman, Esq.
If you are injured in an auto accident, you may have a claim for damages against the driver who was negligent in causing the accident. This is known as a civil claim because the conduct in question involves negligence, rather than an intentional act, which would be a criminal matter.
The civil justice system seeks to give society a peaceful and reasonable means of settling or trying civil claims. The goal of a civil lawsuit is to put injured parties where they would have been but for the difficulties caused by the motor vehicle accident. This can be a difficult task. Obviously there is no way to turn back the hands of time and restore an injured person to good health. The legal system attempts, ultimately through the jury trial system, to place a money value on such things as the loss of physical well-being, the loss of wages and earning capacity, the fear experienced during an auto accident, the loss of companionship when a loved one is seriously injured and many other items of damage.
The law has no way of assuring that an injured victim will actually collect the money that a jury awards. In most cases, auto insurance provides a fund from which settlements or jury verdicts are paid. Unfortunately, in some situations there is not enough auto insurance available. This is where uninsured and underinsured coverage may provide needed protection.
Mandatory liability insurance:
Pennsylvania requires you to carry no less than $15,000 of liability insurance. Liability insurance pays for damages to others that result from a mistake you make, which causes injury. Unfortunately, not all drivers comply with the law and carry liability insurance to compensate victims of their negligence — so you should protect yourself by purchasing additional coverage.
Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage:
How can you prepare for the risk of being injured by a driver with no insurance? The answer is to purchase uninsured motorist (UM) coverage as part of your auto insurance package.
Why is this so important? People who drive without auto insurance often do so because they lack the money to purchase a policy. This in turn usually means that they have no money to pay for your injuries and damages. A civil money judgment against an uninsured driver is virtually impossible to collect. Statistics show that many uninsured drivers are on the road. For example, according to a recent Insurance Research Council study, approximately 9 percent of the claims made in Pennsylvania arose from accidents where uninsured drivers were at fault. Nationwide, this statistic increases to 14 percent.
If you do not have UM coverage in this situation, there will be no funds to pay for the damages and injuries you suffer as the result of the uninsured driver’s carelessness. Therefore, your auto policy should include UM coverage, in an amount no less than your liability coverage.
Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage:
Even when a driver who causes an accident is insured, there may not be adequate liability coverage to pay for the significant losses you have incurred (remember, Pennsylvania requires only $15,000). For this reason, you should purchase underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. For example, if your injuries are valued at $100,000 and the other driver has only $15,000 of liability coverage, your UIM coverage can fill the $85,000 gap, provided you have purchased UIM coverage of at least that amount.
UM and UIM coverage are not required by Pennsylvania law but, at QuatriniRafferty, we strongly recommend that you have the coverage. As always, you should call us with any questions about your auto insurance coverage. We will review your auto policy with you free of charge. There is no substitute for thoughtful preparation.