John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. Today, I’m speaking with Russell Guest and Richard Allen of Guest and Brady in Greenville, South Carolina. Guest and Brady is a personal injury law firm. Today, we are going to be talking about auto accidents and insurance coverage.
Russell and Richard, welcome.
Russell Guest: Thank you, John, for having us. This is Russell here.
Richard Allen: Thanks, John. Glad to be here. This is Richard.
John: Guys, if I’m in an auto accident, what do I do if the person who hit my car doesn’t have auto insurance?
Russell: John, this is Russell. This is a question that comes up unfortunately much too often. It’s believed as much as 20 percent or so of the people are driving around without coverage, whatsoever. Certainly that’s not legal to do so. It’s an obligation to purchase automobile insurance, in order to drive legally.
There are some instances, where people are driving an insured car, but they don’t have permission to actually drive that car. Without someone giving you either tacit approval or direct approval to drive the car, then you can be labeled as a non‑permissive driver.
If that person were to cause an accident, it’s possible that an insured car could now be an uninsured driver because they didn’t have permission to drive it. It causes lots of problems. That’s an area — or when someone is outright driving an uninsured car and they know that.
It happens all the time when people just simply can’t afford the insurance or decide to spend their money on other things and not follow the law. It happens when people have had driving offenses, where their license has been suspended. It could be a prior driving under the influence or other traffic violations. Criminal acts that have their license suspended, and they don’t have the right to purchase insurance on their car because of the suspensions.
Different reasons bring us to this question — also, to the high percentage of people that do in fact drive around uninsured, however, there are protections for those that might be injured by people that are finding themselves in an uninsured situation. Whenever a car is uninsured and causes an accident, there is a label for that type of coverage. This is uninsured coverage.
In South Carolina owner policies, you would see bodily injury, liability coverage. You would see uninsured coverage. You would see another type of coverage called underinsured coverage, and we go down; there are many more types of coverages.
Relevant to this question is that uninsured coverage, and that will protect someone for covering the injuries that they might receive from being in an accident where the at‑fault driver’s car is uninsured. First you have to do an investigation to understand that that is in fact the truth, that their car is uninsured. Sometimes it could be that the insurance company for the car that is labeled to be uninsured, failed to follow certain procedures.
If they did not follow the procedures that they should have, then we can ask that policy be reformed to include bodily injury or liability insurance. That requires investigation, and it requires a knowledge, of course, of the insurance laws and the procedures in order to understand that, because it would be helpful to make sure that other car is in fact uninsured or should be covered by a liability insurance in terms of our ability to recover all that we can, and especially in cases of extreme injury.
We know nowadays whenever you’re injured, it doesn’t take very much before an injury is costing thousands of dollars. Now, just for a trip to the ER is oftentimes $2,000 or $3,000 as soon as you get a few diagnostic tests. So these are critical questions that we want to answer quickly as we can because of the extreme obligations from a financial point that we can have once we’ve been in an accident that causes injury, or even with the property damage.
Cars to repair nowadays can be very expensive, $5,000‑$6,000 all the sudden, and the uninsured, the vehicle, is an issue there too in terms of property damage. You can seek recovery for both of those issues, for property and also for injury, from your own policy on an uninsured coverage, for the instance where the at‑fault driver is uninsured.
John: Richard, maybe you can answer this. What does it mean when my insurance agent says that I have full coverage? Is that actually as much coverage as I can get?
Richard: John, I’m not sure that there is such a thing as full coverage. I don’t know that you can fully cover and insure yourself and your vehicle as far as the term would lead you to believe.
There are many types of coverage. Coverages that you can purchase, for instance, liability coverage; that coverage is a coverage that protects you, if you are involved in an accident and are deemed to be the at‑fault driver that harms or causes bodily injury or property damage to another person.
It would pay for those injuries that you cause. It covers bodily injury, property damage. There are different types of limits. Russell touched on the minimum limits.
We’ve discussed this earlier, the minimum limits in South Carolina that a driver is required to carry is $25,000 for bodily injury. That would be a single injury to one person. $50,000 if more than one person is injured, and then $25,000 for property damage; those are the minimum limits. You can, of course, purchase more.
Oftentimes, it’s wise to purchase more if you have assets that you want to protect, also, if it is a serious accident where there are serious personal injuries to the other driver or drivers.
There’s medical payments coverage. That is an optional coverage. It’s a coverage that you can purchase to protect yourself, to protect other passengers in your vehicle or other family members. Medical payments coverage — it helps. It’s a “No‑fault coverage.”
When you’re involved in an accident and you are injured due to the negligence of another person, this is a coverage that your insurance would pay you. It’s inexpensive.
It’s important to have because oftentimes if, for instance, you don’t have health insurance or you’re going to a healthcare provider that may not accept your particular type of health insurance, or if you own Medicaid and that healthcare provider does not accept Medicaid and simply requires you to pay out of pocket to get treatment; this type of coverage would allow you the money to pay for that treatment.
It’s in various increments, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000, and up. There’s also another type of coverage — it’s a personal injury protection coverage. Again, it’s a coverage that you purchase. It protects you, and it helps pay for costs while you’re going through the healing process. It could cover a wide range of things, childcare, lost income, the value of lost services.
Those are all important coverages. We discussed uninsured coverage and we’re going to get to under insurance, UIM coverage here shortly.
John: When I’m in an accident and I get in touch with my insurance company, the insurance company is going to send me some documents in the mail. What are those documents? Should I sign those documents that are sent by the insurance company?
Russell: John, this is Russell. I’d like to try to answer that. There are a number of different documents during the course of an accident claim that the insurance company may send you.
Initially, they may try to resolve the claim. They may think that they have an agreement with you, and they’ll send you some documents. You’ve got to be very careful about reviewing and accepting whatever documents that they put in front of you.
I had a case not so long ago, where a person believed that the insurance company was sending them something to tie them over until they had gotten their surgery that they were needing when, in fact, the insurance company was trying to extinguish their complete claim for a small amount of money.
This gentleman was significantly injured. It certainly was a bad faith attempt by the insurance company. It ended up being that we were in litigation for a couple of more years trying to resolve that, because this person did not believe that he had accepted what the insurance company thought that he had. We ended up successfully resolving that for him.
Documents that are presented to an individual from the insurance company need to be thoroughly examined to make sure that they are not trying to extinguish any rights that you might have. Oftentimes they’ll send you first of all as well medical authorization, that allows them to go and just start looking at your complete medical history in order — not necessarily to pay you to complete benefits, and I hate to be skeptical about this, but I just had too much experience where they start to then get medical records prior to the accident in order to attempt to try to say that, “Well, you’re not injured because of this accident.”
“You’ve complained about a headache in the past. Obviously, this accident didn’t cause that headache, didn’t cause your neck pain, didn’t cause — because one time you rolled wrong in bed and you went to doctor and complained about it, and they want to say that all of this is caused by your preexisting that was really minor in the past, and not because of that horrific accident that you were just in.”
You find yourself in a battle because you’ve willingly given them access to all your medical history without trying to explain it. They’ve just made their own interpretations of it so you have to be very careful about the documents that are sent to you.
Eventually, when you get to settle a claim and they could send you documents, releasing them if any and all obligations, lots of complications can happen there. There are different ways to settle different types of claims. Sometimes, people have a combination of an auto accident and a worker’s comp claim.
Those could be very tricky to try to negotiate because you might release one particular party and not realize that you’re extinguishing your right to collect from the other claim by signing the particular document that’s put in front of you. Those different types of claims are not talking to one another; they’re only interested in themselves and protecting themselves.
They don’t recognize even, that they may be preventing you from collecting other awards and benefits that you would be entitled to.
Even within a single automobile accident, you could be releasing — give or providing a particular type of release that would prevent you from then getting other insurances, like underinsurance that would be available to you by signing a particular type of release.
You have to be careful about what the languages of those releases say, because there are different types of releases that allow you then to pursue other types of coverages that people are just not aware of.
The complexity of these things require that people come and consult with an attorney in order to understand that they’re not doing or signing something, or giving away a certain right whenever documents are placed in front of them.
John: What does it mean when the at‑fault driver’s insurance says that they don’t have enough money to pay for the total injuries that are sustained? I thought that they had to pay for everything. How does that work?
Richard. John, this is Richard. It goes back to the mandatory minimum limits. It’s $25,000 just for a single injury. The insurance company that is providing that liability coverage, if that is all the coverage that their insured driver has purchased, then that’s all that they are obligated to pay.
However, that doesn’t mean that the driver individually is not responsible. The individual driver who is negligent and causes injury and damages to another person is liable for all of those damages. At that point, you would consider whether it would be prudent to go against the personal assets of the at‑fault driver.
Oftentimes, we found that most people don’t have the ability or assets available to satisfy damages for someone who’s been seriously injured and incurred substantial medical bills who may require additional future care, future life care.
It goes back to the importance of protecting yourself. The way you do that is to purchase the underinsurance or UIM coverage. Oftentimes it’s expensive, once the insurance company has paid its limits and you’re in a situation where you’ve got additional medical bills and damages — that it can be a costly and timely process to pursue a claim against an individual and to understand that they have asset.
Even if they do have assets, not all assets are available to satisfy additional damages. For instance, if someone has a house, you can’t force them to sell their primary residence to pay for the medical bills and damages. There are also other exemptions. It goes to our next topic, and that’s UIM coverage and the importance of purchasing that coverage.
Russell: John, let me…
John: Yeah, go ahead Russell.
Russell: …add a little bit to that if I can. Just last week, I had a horrible situation where a gentleman in his 50’s who has a family and he’s supporting, was killed in an auto accident. He’s just driving along the road and a car crosses a median and comes, and strikes him head on. He dies there at the scene. The at‑fault driver’s car only has $25,000 in coverage.
Here’s a man who got a son who’s in college. He’s got a son who’s in high school, and he has a wife of many years, who together they work this business. Now she’s struggling with the idea of being able to continue the business and then also to provide for those two children. The at‑fault driver was driving legally on the roadway, $25,000 in coverage.
This gentleman and his family have suffered an enormous loss that far exceeds any amount of money that they could possibly get. When we’re going into the subject of underinsured and other ways that you might protect yourself and your family, it’s important to realize that these circumstances happen quickly, unexpectedly, everyday to anybody who finds themselves on the roadway.
John: That’s good to remember. As we get into the next topic, let’s keep that in mind. With that in mind, what is underinsurance? What does that matter? What does that add to this insurance and auto accidents discussion?
Richard: John, I’ll take the first part of this topic. Underinsurance, it’s insurance coverage that your insurance agent in South Carolina is required to offer you. It is coverage that you, again, purchase to protect yourself. The way it works is, it kicks in when you’ve been involved in an accident. The at‑fault driver does not have enough liability coverage to satisfy all of your damages and medical bills.
For instance, the at‑fault driver carries only minimum limits, the 25,000. Let’s say that your medical bills and damages are $100,000. The at‑fault driver’s carrier and liabilities clear, — would pay their 25,000 limits. You still got $75,000 worth of medical bills and damages that you need to be compensated for.
Having UIM coverage in place would then allow you to submit those medical bills and damages to your carrier for payment — the difference, the $75,000.
There are different limits that you can purchase. It’s very inexpensive. You could purchase UIM coverage for as little as $30 for six months. It’s a very important coverage to have. It might be one of the most important coverages that you can purchase.
Just to get back to the full coverage, again, it can be misleading. That’s why it’s important to protect yourself and your family. This is one of the most important ways that you can do so, is purchasing UIM coverage.
John: Russell, do you want to add anything to that as we wrap up?
Russell: Sure. The underinsurance is one that we run into almost every day in regards to seeing people who either have rejected it or don’t have enough coverage. It strikes people as just simply unfair that we have to have or purchase underinsurance because the other at‑fault parties should be responsible for all the damages. It is true, absolutely.
In that story that I was telling earlier, in trying to understand the assets of the party that was at fault — they have very little. They live like many people, paycheck‑to‑paycheck. They have no ability to pay for the total amount of losses that this family has suffered.
The state courts, the civil courts, cannot garnish people’s wages. This happened to be a minor that caused the accident. It was a teenage driver who caused the accident. Trying to make the parents responsible for the actions of a minor is not always easy.
It depends on certain factors. Even if you could do that, the court is not going to garnish your wages. The only people that can do that are the IRS and the government entities can do that. You and I, as individuals, can’t force the court to do that. The court doesn’t have the authority to do that. We have to protect ourselves in other ways, and underinsurance is the way to do that.
It’s important though that when we get into these situations, even in this example of this family that has suffered this loss of a death of a father and a husband, is that that’s certainly a wrongful death claim. There are other types of claims in insurances that we can look to and different types of policies.
If somebody finds themselves in this situation and limited insurances are available, they need to be consulting with an attorney, so that they understand the possibilities of full recovery for them and to help them along the way.
The underinsurance is an insurance that you can reject, but it has to be done in a particular fashion. If the insurance agent is not getting you to reject it in a particular fashion, you have to make a knowing and intelligent rejection of that offer, typically done by way of a form. There are things that an attorney can do to make sure that that happened or not.
If it did not happen, then we can ask the insurance company, or the court force the insurance company, to reform the policy to include the underinsurance that should have been included in the policy because a knowing and intelligent offer was not offered.
Again, often, insurance issues and questions can be pretty complex except to those who actually are working in it in a daily basis. Anytime people are involved in accidents, they need to go and get it evaluated. Most attorneys doing a personal injury type of practice are going to give you a free consultation. You need to take advantage of that. Go talk to them and understand where you are.
Even if you decide not to hire the attorney, you need to talk to them because you don’t want to get yourself in trouble in terms of the past questions that we had about documents that are presented to you, types of coverages that you might not be aware of. My exhortation to people is not to try to do it alone but get some advice along the way.
John: That’s great advice from Russell Guest and Richard Allen. Thanks very much for speaking with me today.
John: For more information about Guest & Brady, visit their website at guestbrady.com or call (800) 903‑8101 or (864) 233‑7200.