Make Sure You Have The Right Auto Insurance Coverage
New technology, computers, Smartphones, tablets, etc., mean we can now purchase car insurance without the traditional face-to-face meeting or phone call with an agent. The problem with purchasing insurance online is that you may not know what you’re actually paying for and how it may protect you. You don’t get the advice of an agent who can explain your options and make recommendations. Most people don’t bother to take the time to try and educate themselves about insurance when they purchase online and don’t even know what they have bought.
Auto insurance coverage is described as either “first-party” or “third party” coverage. “First party” auto insurance coverages include collision coverage, comprehensive coverage, medical payments (med pay) or medical expense, loss wage income, towing, substitute vehicle rental, and uninsured/underinsured coverage. First party coverages benefit the person who is insured under the policy. Except for uninsured and underinsured coverages, generally first party coverag- es will benefit the policy holder regardless of who is at fault.
Third-party coverage is basically liability coverage. Third-party coverage is designed to protect you when you are “at fault” in an accident. Both bodily injury and property damage coverage are parts of third-party coverage.
Just because you have purchased an auto insurance policy does not necessarily mean that you are sufficiently covered. You need to carefully consider what coverages you want and then what limits you want. On review of the cost of certain coverages and limits, you may decide to drop an optional coverage in favor of having higher limits on other coverages.
Begin by looking at the basic coverage limits for bodily injury and property damage liability. Basic auto insurance coverage limits are usually described as “split limits” in 3 parts, such as “25/50/20”. The first number is the maximum the insurance company will pay out to one claimant for bodily injuries or death in one accident. The second number is the maximum amount the insurance company will pay to all claimants for injury or death from one accident, regardless of how many claimants are injured in that accident. The third number is the maximum amount the insurance company will pay to all claimants in one accident for any property damage. Thus, “25/50/20” means the maximum limit for one person’s injury or death in one accident is $25,000; the maximum limit for all claimants’ injuries or deaths is $50,000, and the maximum limit for all claimants property damage is $20,000.
In Virginia, the limits for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverages are the same as the liability coverage limits, unless you choose a lower limit in writing (which is a bad idea). The minimal limit of liability coverage that one can purchase in order to be able to drive in the state of Virginia is $25,000/$50,000. This means that if you are “at fault” in causing an accident resulting in injuries, the most protection you will have is $25,000.00 for any one person who is injured and $50,000.00 for all per- sons who are injured. In Virginia, since the uninsured and underinsured motorist cov- erages are the same limit as the liability coverages, if someone runs into you who has no insurance and injures you, then you will be limited to recovering only $25,000 if that is your liability limit. Certainly with hospital and other medical costs as high as they are these days, the minimal coverage limits of $25,000/$50,000 are almost certainly not enough to protect your interests if someone is injured in the accident.
If you cause an accident and an injured person sues you and gets a judgment against you that is over your policy limits, they may garnish your wages, attach your assets, or seek the unpaid part of the judgment until the entire judgment has been satisfied. Of course, you have to balance the likelihood of an accident involving more serious injuries with the cost of the higher limits. At a minimum, I would suggest that you should have liability (and UM/UIM) coverage limits of $100/$300 or $250/$500. Anything less, you’re putting your assets at risk whether you are at fault or if someone else is at fault and you are injured. You may be surprised how little these higher limits will increase your premiums. And remember to shop around. Rates vary tremendously between different auto insurance companies.
Other coverages to consider are collision, comprehensive, towing, substitute rental vehicle, and lost income. While these coverages are generally good to have, you will need to decide whether the benefits they provide are worth the added cost. Do yourself a favor and check your auto insurance policy and your coverage limits to make sure you are adequately protected. If not, make changes to your policy today. Don’t wait. Remember the old saying: “It is better to be safe, than sorry.”
For a comprehensive guide on how to purchase insurance, and what to do if you’re involved in an accident, download our free All About Insurance eBook, featuring hand-selected expert articles written by Allen & Allen attorneys.