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Mitigating risk through better driving, insurance

May 2018 | David Pincus, Esq.
No matter how careful we are, car crashes will unfortunately happen. All too often, those accidents will be caused by inexperienced drivers, drunk drivers or irresponsible drivers with minimal or no insurance.

In New York State, drivers are permitted to carry car insurance with minimum limits of $25,000 per person over a total amount of $50,000 per occurrence. This is a miniscule amount of money to compensate someone who has sustained serious injury.

Fortunately, it is possible to supplement the amount of coverage for bodily injury through a type of coverage called Supplemental Uninsured Motorist (SUM) coverage. The way SUM coverage works is that it provides supplemental coverage to the coverage carried by the tortfeasor (the term used to describe the person who is at fault for the accident).

If, for example, the tortfeasor has minimum coverage of $25,000, but you have SUM coverage of $100,000, you would have coverage up to a total of $100,000 to compensate you for your injuries. In order to trigger the supplemental coverage, the tortfeasor’s insurance carrier would have to first tender its $25,000 in coverage.

After the SUM claim is triggered, your attorney would attempt to negotiate a settlement with your carrier to fairly compensate you based on the nature of your injuries, your past and future pain and suffering, and other damages such as future lost wages or medical expenses. If an agreement cannot be reached with your carrier, the amount of your award would be determined either through arbitration or a lawsuit against your carrier.

There is a wide range in the amount of SUM coverage that can be purchased. One important limitation, however, is that the amount of SUM coverage cannot exceed the amount of your liability coverage limits. For example, in order to carry SUM of limits of $100,000/300,000, your liability limits must be in at least that amount.

With SUM coverage, the risk of having an accident with a tortfeasor carrying inadequate insurance can be mitigated. Some insurance companies and brokers do not encourage people to obtain SUM coverage. This is unfortunate because the coverage is relatively inexpensive and well worth having. I highly recommend that everyone check their auto policies and make sure they have SUM coverage, which should be in the amount of at least $100,000/300,000 – but a higher amount would be even better.

My years of handling car crash cases have uniquely impacted me. Whenever possible, I try to avoid making left turns since left turn accidents bring very bad consequences. Those include heavy impacts causing substantial injury or even death. In addition, unless the left turn is initiated by a driver with a green left-turn arrow, most if not all of the liability will be assessed against the left turning vehicle based on a failure to yield right of way.

Imagine a common roadway configuration where there is a two-way road with two lanes of through traffic in each direction plus a center convenience lane allowing both left and right hand turns in both directions. Let’s say you are leaving a business on one side of the roadway intending to make a left turn onto the roadway. Your left turn requires crossing at least three lanes of traffic, with traffic whizzing by in both directions and other vehicles (possibly in the convenience lane) doing who knows what.

My advice to the world’s drivers is to avoid making that left turn. If you are in a shopping center with an exit controlled by a traffic light, use the light. If there is no light, make a right and find a light where you can safely turn.

My practice has made me aware of another type of accident that occurs with surprising frequency, which is the one caused by the ostensibly courteous driver. Imagine the same roadway configuration described above. Now let’s put our left turning driver in the middle convenience lane intending to make a left turn into a parking lot. A driver coming from the opposite direction stops (thinking he is being considerate) and waves to the left-turning vehicle that it is safe to make the left turn.

The problem is our “Good Samaritan” has no idea what is happening in the other travel lanes. Our left-turning vehicle initiates the turn, and boom, he or she is clobbered by an oncoming car in the other lane. When it comes to assessing fault, the fact that the left-turning vehicle was waved on is of no moment. Even if the Good Samaritan sticks around, it is the left-turning vehicle that had the obligation to yield right of way and it is the left-turning driver who would generally be found to be at fault.

This type of accident has other similar versions such as a driver stopping and waving in a right or left turning vehicle from a parking lot on the right side of road. “Courteous” drivers who unexpectedly stop on a travel lane are not following the rules of the road but making their own rules by yielding when they have the right of way. Failure to follow the rules of the road causes confusion that sometimes results in crashes. Drivers would do better to find other ways to show kindness to others.

If you have any questions about the matters discussed in this article, please contact your Legal Service Plan’s National Legal Office at 800-292-8063 or 631-231-1450.