How to understand the full insurance benefits you’re entitled to

If you thoroughly read your insurance policy, you might think you have a full understanding of what your benefits entail. But sometimes, polices contain hidden language or unusual benefits that change what you’re entitled to.

car on fire

Not only do you have to understand some complicated legal language, which may not mean what you think it does, you would also need a solid grasp on Virginia law to really get everything you should. The reason for this is that insurance is regulated by state law, not federal.

Thus, the rights of injured motorists, as articulated in insurance policies, are governed by the statutes of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In Virginia, insurance laws are found in Title 38.2 of the Code of Virginia.

Model Policy

Policy language can vary widely. While there is no “model policy” for homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, fire insurance or commercial liability, there is a model policy for automobile insurance. Here’s a look at a typical declarations page for auto insurance.

The Bureau of Insurance of the State Corporation Commission periodically issues updates to this model policy for motor vehicle insurance. An auto policy in Virginia isn’t complete until aligned with the model policy. To fully understand your policy, you must review both the relevant statutes and the current version of the model policy. If the two are in disagreement, the model policy governs. You could have coverage that isn’t written down anywhere on your policy!

When you first purchase an auto insurance policy, you are given a document with two parts:

  • The “declarations page,” sometimes referred to as the “dec sheet,” describes who the “named insured” or owner of the policy is, what vehicles are covered, specific coverages that you have purchased and the cost of coverage on each vehicle.
  • The “body” of the policy generally includes 10 to 15 pages of small print and explains the details of the coverages listed on the declarations page.

calculating insurance benefits

The Fine Print

As author Fulton J. Sheen once wrote, “The big print giveth and the fine print taketh away.”

The fine print can be critical in understanding the limits of your coverage, especially exclusions (things that aren’t covered) and conditions (things that limit coverage). If the insurance policy sent to you by your company contains exclusions or conditions that are not permitted by a Virginia statute, or that are inconsistent with the Virginia model policy, then those exclusions or conditions are null and void. In summary, you are entitled to the coverage, despite the insurance company’s attempts in the small print to “take it away” or if there is a conflict with a statute or the model policy.

When you renew your auto policy — often done annually — your insurance agency will send a new declarations page. If you have lost this page, just request a copy from your insurance agent and keep it in a safe place.

Along with knowing what’s in your policy, it’s helpful to know the specific legal meaning of some terms, which may differ from everyday use. If you misread such words, you will reach the wrong conclusion as to what coverage the policy provides.

Consider, for example, the term “owned.” In this context, it means a vehicle listed in the policy. “Non-owned” means a vehicle is not owned by either the insured or any relative who resides with the insured. So, if the insured owns another vehicle that is not listed in the policy, then as to that policy, the vehicle is neither “owned” nor “non-owned.”

Get Help When You Need It

Consulting a qualified attorney will help to clarify what your insurance covers, and ensure you receive the benefits you’re entitled to. Every year in Virginia, deserving claimants are deprived of millions of dollars of insurance benefits simply because they don’t know their rights or don’t understand their benefits.

With the Allen Law Firm, the initial consultation is always free. Let us help you navigate the maze of insurance regulations and to know your rights.