Make sure you're covered in the event of an accident
Many motorists wrongly assume that if they're involved in a car accident, insurance will pick up the bill. That's why you have insurance, after all. Unfortunately, the reality is quite a bit more complex. Different aspects of your insurance policy cover different types of losses in an accident. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may be stuck with thousands of dollars in expenses that aren't covered.
At the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone, we routinely work with motorists who have found themselves in legal or financial trouble because they didn't have the right amount or right kind of coverage, even though their policy met the minimum legal requirements in Massachusetts. Here's what you need to know.
Required Coverage Types
Massachusetts law requires all motorists to carry four types of insurance, each with a minimum dollar amount:
- Bodily Injury to Others (BI): This type of coverage pays for medical bills and other expenses incurred by other people who are injured or killed in an accident that you cause. Massachusetts law requires motorists to purchase up to $20,000 in coverage per injured person and up to $40,000 per accident. Note, however, that injuries often cost much more than those minimums. Many motorists choose to purchase higher amounts.
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP): This coverage protects you if you are injured in an accident, on a no-fault basis. Under Massachusetts law, you need at least $8,000 per accident of PIP coverage. Unfortunately, some motorists will elect to have a deductible apply to their PIP coverage without having a full understanding of the consequences. However, many motorists choose to purchase more than the statutory minimum.
- Bodily Injury Caused by an Uninsured Auto (UM): Often known as uninsured motorist coverage, this covers expenses for you or your passengers if the motorist who caused your accident does not have insurance, or if the motorist at fault cannot be identified. While there are very few uninsured drivers in Massachusetts, the potential consequences of an accident involving an uninsured motorist are devastating. You could also be involved in a collision with an uninsured out-of-state driver as not all states require their motorists to have auto insurance. Massachusetts requires you to purchase up to $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident of this type of coverage.
- Damage to Someone Else's Property: A fairly self-explanatory type of coverage, this pays for damage you cause to someone else's vehicle or other property. The legally required minimum is $5,000 per accident.
Other types of insurance coverage are considered optional in Massachusetts. The two most commonly purchased are collision coverage, which pays for damage to your vehicle in an accident, and comprehensive coverage, which pays for non-collision-related losses such as fire damage or theft of your vehicle. You are not required by law to have either type of coverage. However, if you lease or finance your vehicle, the finance company will require you to have those coverages.
Legal and Financial Implications
Remember that collision and comprehensive are optional coverage types in Massachusetts - and many motorists will be better off if they decline that option. Many motorists pay hundreds of dollars per month to pay for collision and comprehensive coverage on an older vehicle that may only be worth one or two thousand dollars in a claim - not to mention a $500 deductible before they're able to collect any money at all.
If you own an older car outright, consider dropping your collision and comprehensive coverage and putting the money you save aside to pay for a new vehicle in the event of an accident.
However, when it comes to the coverage types that pay for bodily injury, you can't afford to skimp on coverage. Again, injuries can easily cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars when medical bills, lost wages and other costs are taken into account. If you're at fault in an accident and don't have enough BI coverage, you may have to give up assets in a lawsuit.
Conversely, if you are hurt in an accident by a motorist who doesn't have coverage, and you don't have enough UM coverage, your only legal recourse is to try to recover from the other driver's assets - which, practically speaking, will only work if that motorist has assets to recover.
Finally, it's important to remember that in most cases, an insurance company is only required to provide compensation up to the policy limit, no matter the cost of the accident. Anything above and beyond those limits is the responsibility of the policyholder - either you or the other motorist. There are some exceptions to this rule, though; for instance, if an insurance company acts in bad faith, a court may order the company to pay damages above and beyond the policy limit.
We recommend reviewing your policy and speaking with your insurance agent as soon as possible to make sure you have the right coverage. If you're not sure whether your insurance policy is protecting you - or if you've been involved in an accident and have a dispute with your insurance company - contact the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone today.