Over the past almost 20 years of working with accident victims, I have seen NUMEROUS instances where the damages were VERY high (high medical expenses, weeks of lost wages, scarring, etc.) and the policy limits were very low. Sadly, I have even seen many instances where the damages are very high and every where we looked, there was NO COVERAGE to be found. Below is a discussion of many of the “places” you can look for potential liability (3rd party) coverage and uninsured/underinsured (1stparty) coverage, for your damages, from a wreck.
1. Driver Liability
Typically, the first place you will look for coverage, is to the driver of the vehicle, that caused your wreck and your injuries (damages). In Texas, it is against the law to drive a vehicle that is not insured, but we all know this happens, on a daily basis. The State of Texas requires drivers to be covered by an automobile insurance liability policy of no less than $30,000.00 per individual or $60,000.00 per occurrence (as of January 2021); states do change their minimum limit requirements, so you will always want to check for your state, to make sure you are obeying the law. This $30,000.00/$60,000.00 breakdown means that no one individual injured in a wreck, caused by someone with Texas minimum limits, will receive more than $30,000.00, for that instance, and the entire policy, if more than one person is injured, will not pay more than $60,000.00 total, for that instance. These minimum limit issues become a concern when (1) there are multiple people injured or (2) there is only one person injured, but their damages are very high. If the injured person has to be care flighted, that bill alone can be up to $60,000.00 (double the single individual minimum liability limit in Texas). Thankfully, insureds do have the option to purchase policies with limits that are higher than the minimum. Higher limits offer additional protection, to at fault drivers, in situations like these.
2. Owner Liability
If you are in one of the situations above (multiple injured parties or one party with very high damages), and you have exhausted the limits of the negligent driver, you can next look to see if the vehicle was owned by someone other than the driver and if the owner had a different liability policy. Another instance, where a driver’s policy may come in, is when the negligent driver did not have their own, separate policy, but was covered as a driver on the owner’s policy because they had permission to drive the car. To find out if the driver and owner of the car are not the same person, the first place you would need to look would be the police report. The officer will list the name and address, for both driver and owner, on the report, if he has that information. If the officer lists the driver and owner as the same, it does not hurt to run a VIN (vehicle identification number) search, to confirm that the officer was provided correct information. This VIN search will confirm that the driver was the owner or provide you with the correct owner information.
3. Underinsured Vehicle
If you have exhausted the liability policy or policies, but your damages exceed all of the available liability funds, and you were a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, when the wreck occurred, you can look to that person’s automobile policy for what is called underinsured motorist coverage. This coverage protects against low liability limits and high damages. In Texas, the insured must sign a rejection of underinsured coverage, so if an insurance carrier tells you that the driver of your vehicle did not have underinsured coverage, you will want to make sure they provide you copy of that signed rejection. If the insurer cannot provide you with a valid signed rejection, they are required, by law, to provide you the minimum limits of underinsured coverage. If you are in a wreck with an uninsured driver/owner, meaning there is no liability coverage, and you are a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, you would look to the uninsured coverage, on the vehicle in which you were a passenger, for coverage.
4. Underinsured Personal
Next, if you have exhausted all liability policies and you were a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, and exhausted their underinsured coverage, if you have underinsured coverage on your own liability policy, you would be able to make a claim there, as well. Also, if you were in your own vehicle, when the wreck occurred, and you exhausted all possible liability coverage, then you could make a claim on your own underinsured motorist coverage, if you purchased it (or your insurer fails to produce a signed rejection). Worst case scenario, there is no liability coverage, you can make a claim on your own uninsured coverage, for your injuries from the wreck.
5. Family member, living in your home
One more place, that many people do not know to look, is to auto policies of family members, that live in their home. Maybe grandma moved in and she has a separate policy, from the one that you have on your own vehicle; you can look to grandma’s policy, to see if it was drafted to cover family members, that live in the same household. Typically, you would look to the policy definitions, to see how “insured” is defined. As with all coverage, it is all about how the policy defines who and what is covered, that lets you know if there will be coverage for your damages.
6. Personal Injury Protection and Medical Payments Coverage
For any policy that has first party coverage (the vehicle in which you were a passenger, your own auto policy, your family member’s policy (if applicable)), there is potential for coverage of medical payments or personal injury protection. Both of these types of coverage are called no-fault coverage; this means that you can make a claim for these, even if the wreck is your fault. Some policies may have only medical payments coverage or only personal injury protection, or both. Two significant differences between medical payments coverage and personal injury protection…(1) medical payments coverage is subrogatable (this means that the insurance carrier can request repayment if the injured party receives payment from another party, for the same damages that the medical payment carrier paid for) and (2) personal injury protection, besides medicals, can also cover 80% of lost wages.
Hopefully, this article shed light on some possible options for additional coverage, if you are in a wreck where (1) multiple people are injured or (2) you were the only one injured, but you had very high damages and the one liability policy just was not enough. Potential for limited coverage is one of the MANY reasons that you should contact a personal injury attorney, following a wreck. There are so many issues, like this one, that most people do not even know exist, where a personal injury attorney, with years of experience and vast knowledge of the personal injury field, deals with them on a daily basis.