We have a new client who was out for a walk when he was hit by a car, suffering multiple fractures to his legs, wrist and hand. From the address in Brooklyn of the offending driver on the police report, and the fact that he was driving a 14 year old Chevrolet, I had a pretty good hunch that he had a minimal $25,000 insurance policy. I asked my new client if he had a car and he said he did. I asked him about his insurance coverage and he said he had the most wonderful insurance brokers who have been handling his family’s business for decades and that I should call them and that they would send over the declarations page. He did know that he had a two million dollar umbrella policy, which I knew could not be issued unless he had several hundred thousand dollars in liability coverage. “Thank goodness” I thought, since this poor man would not be limited to the $25,000 of the offending driver’s insurance coverage. Surely his own policy had Supplementary Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (SUM) coverage matching his own high liability limits, and therefore he could likely collect several hundred thousand dollars as compensation for his terrible injures.
I returned to the office and called his “most wonderful brokers” and they happily took my call and promptly emailed his declarations page to me. I looked at his coverage and I felt like I had been punched in the gut. His “most wonderful brokers” had in fact obtained liability coverage for him of $300,000 with a two million dollar umbrella; ample coverage if he ran someone over and they sued him. They had also gotten him $100,000 extra no-fault coverage to pay his medical bills, and he had full collision and comprehensive. This was not an inexpensive policy written by some no-name insurance company, but rather a fairly expensive policy issued by one of the largest and most well known insurance companies.
What his “most wonderful brokers” did not get for him however was Supplementary Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (SUM) coverage of more than the minimum $25,000 required by law in New York. As a result, this poor man with two young children who was hit by a 19 year old kid driving a 14 year old car he bought used two weeks earlier for $900, could only collect $25,000 for his injures. I called his brokers and asked them to explain why my client was sold every high premium, high limit coverage available, but was not advised to purchase SUM coverage matching his $300,000 liability limits. I knew why, but I wanted to hear them say it. Instead they said they couldn’t speak to me anymore and hung up.
PLEASE DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU or your loved ones. For those of you who don’t work with auto insurance everyday, Supplementary uninsured/underinsured (SUM) coverage is a type of insurance coverage on every auto policy in New York which provides you with coverage to collect against on your own policy if you are injured by another vehicle that has lower liability coverage than you have on your vehicle. The amount of coverage available to you is automatically set at the required minimum of $25,000, even if your liability coverage is much higher, but you have the option of purchasing additional coverage up to the limits of your own liability coverage.
In the case of my client, he could have purchased up to $300,000 SUM coverage and collected $25,000 from the policy of the person that hit him and $275,000 more from his own SUM coverage IF he had had it. But he didn’t have it and here is why; New York State insurance regulations limit the amount of money an insurance company can charge for SUM coverage. While the premium on $300,000 liability coverage may cost more than a thousand dollars, insurance carriers can only charge about $45 for $300,000 SUM coverage. Because the amount the insurance company can charge is so small, the insurance companies, and their brokers, would actually prefer you not buy the SUM coverage because if you make a claim against it, it throws off the premium collected to claims paid out ratio (“claims loss ratio”) used to determine broker bonus compensation and insurance company profits. Making a claim against your own SUM coverage also does not effect your own rates, because there is no finding of fault involved.
New York State Courts have held that a broker is NOT required to advise you to buy extra SUM coverage, and that they have no liability for failing to obtain extra SUM coverage for you unless you specifically request that coverage. The Courts have held that statements such as “give me the best insurance” or “give me full coverage” or “give me high limits” is not a specific request for SUM coverage. You must say “make my SUM coverage limits match my liability coverage limits” or “give me $300,000 (or more if your liability coverage is higher) SUM coverage” for the broker to be required to get it for you.
I want each one of you to take out the declarations page of your car insurance and check to see what your SUM coverage is. If it does not match your liability limits, your broker or insurance company has done you a tremendous disservice. Call them up and ask them why they did not advise you to get SUM coverage matching your liability coverage, and anything they say other than “because I don’t make any money from it” is a complete and utter lie. Tell them to they are fired for putting you and your family at risk, and find a new broker or carrier who has your best interests at heart. For those of you who do not know me, I do not sell insurance. I am just the personal injury lawyer who has to break the bad news to you after it’s too late to fix it.
Please share this with everyone you know and help them help themselves.