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Inadequate Insurance


"I have full coverage" is the response I typically hear when I ask about police officers' personal automobile insurance coverages at home.  In my experience, over 95% of them do not have " full" coverage, and in fact their coverage is vastly inadequate.  Not only do they have inadequate protection, but almost all of them are totally unaware that valuable protections exist buried in their policies that no insurance agent ever told them about.  Do you know that all Massachusetts automobile insurance policies provide Bodily Injury Caused by Uninsured Motorist protection benefits ("Uninsured coverage")?   Do you know what that is?   Do you know that all Massachusetts automobile insurance policies provide for optional  Bodily Injury Caused by Underinsured Motorist protection benefits ("Underinsured coverage")?  Do you know what that is?  Do you know Uninsured and Underinsured coverages protect you, members of your household (related by blood, adoption, or marriage) and in some cases, guests in your vehicle?  Do you know these coverages often apply when your car isn't even involved in an accident?  Probably not.  Most of you who have read this far have answered " no" to these questions.   In the event of an accident involving a motor vehicle, these coverages may protect you when injured while riding in a cruiser or in a friend's car, directing traffic and even when jogging, biking, walking etc.  I have been lecturing on this subject and writing about it for over twenty years.  Without fail, over 95% of my audience never heard of these valuable and affordable coverages.

Uninsured coverage applies whenever an accident is caused by a vehicle with no insurance.  Vehicles are declared Uninsured when insurance policies are canceled for non-payment, when out of state cars are not required to carry insurance, and when cars are stolen or used without authority.  Accidents with "hit and run" vehicles are also covered as "Uninsured" vehicles; even if there is no contact between the vehicles when the injured party's car is cut off.   This coverage is found under part 3 of your personal automobile insurance policies.  The current mandatory minimum coverage is $20,000.00 per person, which is hardly enough if you have been seriously injured, regardless of the length of time you may be out of work.

Underinsured coverage applies when the Defendant's or offending vehicle's insurance coverage is not enough to cover all of your damages.  It is found under part 12 of your personal automobile insurance coverages and is an optional coverage.  It is not unusual for my clients and members of the audience to have zero coverage or the minimum coverage of $20,000 per person, which is virtually worthless coverage.  The way Underinsured coverage works is you subtract the amount of the Defendant's or offending vehicle's coverage from your total damages.  The amount you collect from the offending vehicle's insurance company is subtracted from your own coverage under part 12:  whatever is leftover is the maximum you can collect.  For example, if you have a claim worth $100,000.00 and the Defendant has the minimum $20,000.00 of coverage, they are underinsured by $80,000.00.  If you carried optional limits of $100,000 per person under part 12, then I would collect $20,000.00 of coverage from the Defendant's insurance company and come back to your own company and pursue a claim to collect the balance of $80,000.00.   Hence, $20,000 of part 12 Underinsured coverage is virtually worthless in most cases ($20,000 - $20,000 = 0).  On too many occasions to count,  I have represented police officers who are in cruiser accidents, struck while working a detail or otherwise injured by a motor vehicle and the defendant only has the minimum $20,000.00 of coverage, and the officer has zero, or minimum, part 12 Underinsured coverage.

When you make a claim against your own insurance policy for Uninsured or Underinsured motorist benefits, your premium does not increase because you are not at fault for the accident.  You should purchase as much Uninsured and Underinsured coverage protection as you can afford.  Accidents do happen, and in many cases the offending driver has the minimum amount or no insurance, has left the scene before he could be identified, or was operating a stolen motor vehicle.  Don't make the mistake of carrying minimum limits of Uninsured coverage, and minimum or no Underinsured coverage on your automobiles at home.

Police officers throughout Massachusetts are frequently injured in the pursuit of stolen motor vehicles.  In the past twenty years, I have represented many of these officers and collected tens and, at times, hundreds of thousands of dollars in valuable compensation for them.  I suspect that officers injured during stolen motor vehicle pursuits conclude there is no prospect of making a claim since they expect that the stolen motor vehicle's insurance company will deny coverage.  Unfortunately, these officers are unaware of the other options available which can bring valuable compensation to the injured officer for their lost overtime and detail pay, as well as the serious injuries and scarring which often result in these accidents.   With 2003 crime statistics revealing close to 25,000 annual motor vehicle thefts in Massachusetts, the risk to police officers of being involved in such pursuits is high.

Injuries can occur when the cruiser spins out on a curve, when the cruiser collides with the stolen motor vehicle, or even when two cruisers in pursuit of the same stolen motor vehicle collide during that pursuit.  We have handled cases when the officer, during the pursuit, was forced to veer off into other moving vehicles, other cruisers or parked cars.  We have even handled cases where two cruisers were forced to strike each other head on in the pursuit of the stolen motor vehicle.  There is also a scenario sometimes referred to as " pop a cop", where the operator of the stolen motor vehicle slams on the brakes causing the  cruiser to rear end the stolen motor vehicle.  This can sometimes cause the airbag to deploy, disabling the cruiser and allowing the operator of the stolen motor vehicle to get away. 

We have accessed these valuable coverages even when officers are injured removing drivers and passengers from vehicles they have stopped, and when slipping on oil left in the road from a motor vehicle accident.  These coverages are especially important to officers who operate motorcycles or do a lot of road work.  When accidents happen involving motorcycles and officers on foot, the injuries are often severe and often exceed $100,000 in value.  The problem often is the defendant has the minimum $20,000 of coverage, and the officer has no Underinsured benefits on his vehicles at home.  Any officer who has done a bit of road work can attest to the great number of   "Mr. Magoos" out there.

I'm often asked whether all of the vehicles at home should be increased under parts 3 and 12 for Uninured and Underinsured benefits.  The answer is yes.  Recent court decisions confirm that if a vehicle in the household is involved in an accident and it is the one with the lower coverage, you can not reach over to the other vehicle's higher  insurance coverages in the household.

Coverages under parts 3 and 12 for Uninsured and Underinsured motorist benefits are surprisingly affordable.  What usually makes it more expensive is if your "Optional Bodily Injury to Others" under part 5 of your policy has low or minimum limits.  Under this coverage you protect others in the event your vehicle is in an accident and your driver is at fault.  The law does not allow you to insure yourself for higher limits under parts 3 and 12 for Uninsured and Underinsured coverages, than you insure the rest of the world under part 5.  When I hear the response "I have full coverage," typically the person is referring to their part 5 "Optional Bodily Injury to Others" coverage, which they often carry at least $100,000 per person.  Unfortunately that is not full coverage if you only insure yourself for $20,000 in the event of an injury with an Uninsured or Underinsured vehicle.

The legislature requires by statute that insurance companies sell you higher limits of Uninsured and Underinsured coverages.  Unfortuately, they didn't require the agents or companies to explain the coverages to you, inform you that they exist and let you know how valuable they are.  Many agents don't fully understand these coverages, let alone attorneys who handle these cases.

In a recent tragic case, a police officer client of ours was lamenting the fact that he didn't know about these valuable coverages, and how he was unable to get full compensation because the Defendant had the minimum $20,000 limit and the injured officer had no Underinsured coverage on his vehicles at home.  He was sharing this with a fellow officer in a neighboring department and told him to immediately increase his coverages, because I had taught him how valuable the coverages are and how accidents can happen at any time.  The fellow officer paused and said maybe later, but he was planning to go on vacation soon and didn't want to spend the money right now.  Tragically, this same fellow officer, the next day, was struck and seriously injured while doing a road detail.  When his wife called me and we reviewed their automobile insurance policies, we learned they only had the minimum Underinsured limits of $20,000.

It is important that officers, family members of officers reading this article, and those they communicate with, go home and check the automobile insurance policies in their families to see what amount of coverage that is carried under part 3 for Uninsured Coverage and part 12 for Underinsured Coverage.  You don't have to wait for the renewal date to make a change.  Do it now.  Do it for yourselves and your families.  Unfortunately, accidents do happen and you never know when you might be the one who is involved.  Call your agent and find out what it will cost to increase these coverages, and then decide how much you can afford to purchase.  To protect yourself, purchase as much Uninsured Coverage and Underinsured as you can afford on your household vehicles.  Your agent will explain how to do this.  Feel free to call me if you have any questions about these coverages.

An injured officer should always consider seeking a free consultation to determine his or her rights, benefits, and the probability of making a successful claim.  I am always available by telephone, email or a personal meeting.  Once I evaluate the case and the officer's chances of success, the decision whether to go forward rests with the officer.  If the injured officer is out of work, the decision when to return to work rests, as it should, with the officer and his or her doctor.  Unlike other attorneys, we do not believe in, nor do we have any interest in, keeping officers out injured any longer than necessary to heal from their injuries.  As it is, many of our injured officers never miss a day of work and are still able to receive substantial compensation for their injuries which continue to nag at them during long hours spent behind the wheel of a cruiser and/or standing on a road job.

As with all claims involving an officer's injury on duty, there are no guarantees.  Many police injury cases involve sophisticated legal issues, problems of proof, technical insurance policy coverage disputes, and issues that arise under Massachusetts General Laws c. 41, §100 and §111F, Chapter 152, State Police Article 8 and or other related laws.

When we work on these cases, we work on a contingent fee basis. That means the injured officer pays nothing up front and while the case is pending.  He or she only need pay for legal services and expenses at the end of the case, if we successfully collect money on the claim.   We typically will receive one-third of the money collected.   In the off-chance we are unable to collect money for the injured officer, the officer owes nothing for our legal services.


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