Supplemental Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Every week, almost without fail, we get a new motor vehicle case in which the innocent victim is catastrophically injured or killed, but the negligent party who caused the accident has auto insurance with the minimum allowable New York liability limits of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident.
It is heart-breaking to sit down with people whose lives have been turned upside down by an accident that was not their fault, but to have to tell them that all they are likely to recover is the minimum insurance coverage of the at-fault driver.
Efforts to increase the minimum allowable liability limits to provide accident victims with increased liability insurance coverage have been unsuccessful.
However, there is something easy and inexpensive that you can do to protect yourself and your family in the event that you are injured or killed by someone who has minimum coverage: purchase optional supplemental underinsured motorist coverage, also known as "SUM coverage."
Under the law, you can purchase SUM coverage in an amount equal to the bodily injury coverage that you purchase on your automobile insurance policy. For instance, if you purchase bodily injury coverage of $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident, for a small additional premium you can purchase SUM coverage in the same amount. If you do, and you or a family member are injured or killed by a person with either minimum coverage or coverage that is less than the $250,000/$500,000 you have, the SUM coverage will "fill the gap" between the at fault driver's policy and your policy.
Several years ago, the New York Legislature passed a bill that would have required auto insurers to provide SUM coverage to the same limits as the bodily injury liability coverage unless consumers specifically declined the coverage. Astonishingly, Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill as "anti-consumer." For now, this means that anyone can purchase SUM coverage in New York, but you have to specifically ask for it.
Asking for it is the right thing to do.
Several years ago, we represented a married father of three young children who was killed in a car accident driving home from work. The at-fault driver had liability limits of $100,000, but the vehicle the father was driving had SUM coverage of $1,000,000. The at-fault driver paid his full limits of $100,000 and the SUM carrier for the father paid $900,000. Without SUM coverage, the family's recovery would have been limited to the at-fault driver's $100,000 coverage, adding an additional financial burden to the already tragic loss of a parent.
So check your automobile policy to make sure that you have purchased SUM coverage in the same amount as your bodily injury liability limits. If you have not, call your insurance company as soon as possible and ask them to do so. You will be astonished at how little it costs to protect yourself and your family.