Involved in an Underinsured Motorist Accident?

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By Marcus Fernandez

If you have an accident and think the company insuring the driver who was at fault will pay for your damages, you should know there is a better than one in four chance that the other motorist does not have automobile insurance to pay for your personal injuries. Even if the other driver has insurance, it may be only the $10,000 minimum required under Florida law. That leaves you footing the bill for the rest of your damages. There is, however, an option that pays compensation to victims of underinsured motorist accidents.

Whether you live and work here or just visiting, driving in Florida can be dangerous. It has been ranked in the top 10 of states with the most aggressive drivers. According to the most recent accident data released by the state, 3,135 people lost their lives and another 255,353 were injured as a result of the 403,626 motor vehicle accidents that took place in the state in 2018.

Florida mandatory auto insurance coverage

You cannot register a car in Florida without presenting proof that you have automobile insurance. You must also have at least $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) coverage and personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. Florida is a no-fault states that make the PIP coverage of your policy the primary source to pay medical expenses. It can also cover lost wages and other out-of-pocket costs associated with injuries you or passengers suffer.

Your auto insurance company pays PIP benefits without regard to who may have been at fault in causing the accident. In fact, the law prevents you from suing the party who caused the crash unless the injuries include any of the following: 

  • Loss of a bodily function that is significant and permanent 
  • Disfigurement or scarring that is significant and permanent 
  • An injury that is permanent  
  • Injuries resulting in death 

If you are at fault in causing an accident that results in damage to another party’s property the PDL coverage of your auto insurance pays the claim up to the policy limits. PDL coverage in your policy does not pay for damage to your vehicle or other property you own. The negligent driver’s PDL coverage pays for your property damage.

Consider adding bodily injury liability to your auto insurance coverage

Florida does not require proof of bodily injury liability coverage in an auto policy in order to register a vehicle. Bodily injury liability coverage protects you against claims from an accident caused by your negligence.

Although it is technically not mandatory to have bodily injury liability coverage, the state’s financial responsibility law makes it more convenient to add $10,000 of coverage to your auto insurance rather than post a bond in case you injure someone in an accident. Unless you have bodily injury liability coverage, your insurance company may refuse to include optional uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage as part of your insurance.

Challenges posed by uninsured and underinsured motorist accidents 

Florida has a tradition of leading the nation in having the highest percentage of uninsured motorists with 26.7 percent. If an uninsured driver crashes into your car causing injuries, you are limited to the PIP benefits under your insurance. Even if your injuries are serious enough to allow you to sue for damages, including pain and suffering. Doing so would be fruitless against a driver without liability coverage to pay your claim.

Another challenge you may face if seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident occurs when the at-fault driver had only the minimum bodily injury coverage of $10,000. As with an uninsured motorist, you must first look to your PIP coverage for compensation. However, PIP pays only 80 percent of medical expenses and reimburses up to 60 percent of wages you lose by being unable to work to the accident.  

If your injuries prove to be significant enough to allow you to file a PIP claim and also sue the underinsured motorist, the compensation available may only be the limits of the bodily injury liability coverage of the at-fault party’s insurance policy. If an uninsured or underinsured driver caused the accident you have another option.

Adding uninsured motorist coverage to your insurance policy

Insurance companies in Florida must offer uninsured and underinsured motorist coverages when you purchase a policy that includes bodily injury liability coverage. When injured in an accident caused by an uninsured, your claim for compensation is made against the PIP coverage and uninsured motorist coverage of your policy.

The procedure to make a claim in underinsured motorist accidents is different than when the other driver has no insurance. Your claim for compensation first goes to your PIP coverage. It then goes to other motorist’s bodily injury liability coverage. Then you claim against your underinsured motorist coverage policy.

Consult a Tampa personal injury lawyer 

Victims of underinsured motorist accidents may benefit from the sound legal advice of a Tampa personal injury lawyer. Representation by an experienced attorney ensures that your motorist claim complies with the law and insurance policy.