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Underinsured Motorists

Massachusetts Police Injury Attorneys
Legal Article - Underinsured Motorists


Over the past 22 years, I have found most Massachusetts drivers have never heard of Underinsured Motorist Coverage, or as it is formally called “Bodily Injury Caused By An Underinsured Auto”. As a result, they lack this important and valuable automobile insurance coverage for injuries caused by underinsured motorists. This coverage is currently found on the bottom of the coverage selections page for Massachusetts automobile insurance policies for personal automobiles in Part 12, and is one of the optional coverages which can be purchased along with other optional coverages like collision, comprehensive, and substitute transportation. Unlike these other optional coverages, which usually apply only to the insured vehicle, Underinsured Motorist Coverage, more akin to personal accident insurance, applies when the insured individual is injured in an automobile accident, regardless of whether the insured vehicle is involved and regardless of whether the insured was in the insured vehicle. The insured vehicle need not and often is not involved in the accident. Part 12 coverage is valuable not only to the named insured on the policy, but also to all members of the household which are related to the insured by blood, adoption, or marriage. If there is an occupant in the insured vehicle that has no automobile insurance policies in their household, then it would also cover an occupant.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage can be a significant benefit to persons who are frequently on the road and, therefore, run an increased risk of injuries, which are caused in motor vehicle collisions. The routine requirements of the typical police officer’s day places him or her many times in dangerous motor vehicle accidents. These accidents can occur while the officer is directing traffic, standing at a roadside detail, operating a cruiser or motorcycle, or riding a mountain bike. It is also not unusual for police officers to suffer injuries during motor vehicle pursuits, pulling a motorist from a vehicle, or in collisions with vehicles, which fail to yield to an emergency response. When a police officer is injured in an accident with a motor vehicle, the value of his or her claim often exceeds the required minimum limits of $20,000 per person, which so many vehicles carry in Massachusetts.

For example, an officer who suffers a lower back or knee injury in a motor vehicle accident may find himself out of work for four months. It is not unusual for such a claim to have a value in excess of $50,000 considering lost overtime and detail, medical bills, and pain and suffering. If there is a fracture or required surgery, these claims may be in excess of $100,000. If the offending vehicle only carried minimum limits of $20,000, then the offending driver is underinsured $30,000 for a $50,000 claim, and similarly underinsured $80,000 for a $100,000 claim. In such cases, we would pursue the injured officer’s own Underinsured Motorist Coverage on his personal vehicles for the balance if the injured officer had purchased this additional Underinsured Motorist Coverage.

Unfortunately, police officers, like many other consumers, carry little or no Underinsured Motorist Coverage. Because the coverage is optional and usually not brought to the attention of the purchaser of automobile insurance, it is frequently left blank or minimal ($20,000) limits are indicated. Such minimal limits are usually worthless, since the amount recovered from the responsible driver under compulsory insurance limit ($20,000) must be deducted from the Underinsured Motorist Limit.

During initial consultations with prospective clients, we always ask how much insurance coverage the client has on their personal automobile policies. If the injured client has substantial limits of Underinsured Motorist Coverage, we can usually collect full compensation for the client’s injuries, even if it turns out that the offending driver has the minimum $20,000 limit of bodily injury coverage. It is our experience that over 95% of clients we talk to are totally unaware of the existence of Part 12 Underinsured Motorist Coverage. When we ask a police officer or another client what type of automobile insurance they have, they confidently reply “full coverage.” However, this “full coverage” usually is only larger limits on Part 5 (Optional Bodily Injury to Others) of $100,000 per person or $250,000 per person, which applies only if the officer, or someone driving his or her vehicle, causes injury to someone else. When we look at Part 12 for “Bodily Injury Caused By An Underinsured Auto” on the same policy, we regularly find no coverage at all. As soon as you have read this article, I urge you to review the coverage selection pages for all the vehicles in your house and check the amounts of coverage you are carrying under Part 12 for Underinsured Motorist Coverage.

Compared to other items on the policy, rates charged for Part 12 Underinsured Motorist Coverage are affordable. However by law, the person insuring the automobile may not insure for limits that are higher than they already insure others under Part 5 Optional Bodily Injury to Others. We advise our clients to purchase as much Part 12 Underinsured Motorist Coverage as they can afford, realizing they will have to cover an equal amount under Part 5.

The law and language of the insurance policy surrounding claims for Underinsured Motorist Coverage is complicated and ever changing. Besides exclusions written into the insurance policy, there are other issues, which may arise, so you must be aware that there is no guarantee of collecting on such coverage just because you have purchased it and are in an accident with an underinsured motorist. We have been very successful in making such claims over the years for both police officers injured on duty and their family members. Such claims are private matters between the officer and his insurance company. The employing City or Town is not involved. If a fair settlement cannot be agreed upon, there is no court involvement, but rather binding private arbitration. The courts are almost never involved, unless an insurance company claimed the coverage was inapplicable or required an interpretation of the policy, both of which are extremely rare events.

The topic of Underinsured Motorist Coverage could never be completely covered in an article of this length. It is extremely valuable coverage to have, and we have met with much success on these claims over the past 22 years. Officers would be wise to purchase as much coverage as they can afford on Part 12 of their personal automobile policies. I am often asked whether only one vehicle in the household needs to be insured with higher limits. Given a recent decision of the Supreme Judicial Court, it is better practice to insure all vehicles in the household at the same high limits of Underinsured Motorist Coverage in the event someone insured in the household is injured while occupying one of the household vehicles. Also, ask your insurance agent about adding or increasing Uninsured Motorist Coverage limits, which is compulsory coverage found under Part 3 of personal automobile insurance policies in Massachusetts. This coverage offers similar protection, but applies to injuries caused by motorists with no insurance.

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. The decision when to return to work rests, as it should, with the officer and his or her doctor.

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. Be advised that the employing City or Town can have no Chapter 41 lien against an injured officer’s claim for Underinsured Motorist Coverage.

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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