When most of us buy auto insurance, we're really just looking at how much coverage we need to get behind the wheel and how low can we keep the monthly payment. Here's the reality of auto insurance coverage:
One day you are running out to the grocery store to pick up a few things. As you drive through an intersection with the green light, another driver runs the red light and smashes into your car. You wake up at the hospital with stitches in your head and several broken bones. You had to have some emergency surgery and you will be in the hospital for several days. You aren't going to be able to go back to work for quite a while and you have bills to pay. Your life has just been turned upside down. Your daily commitments and responsibilities are still there, even though you are out of commission.
It's usually at this point when most of us will begin to wonder about how much insurance the guy had that hit us. This is a good question because your medical bills alone could easily exceed $30,000.00. What about your missed paychecks? What about the broken bones and the scar on your head? What about the terrible pain you're feeling that the pain killers barely takes the edge off of?
North Carolina Law requires a minimum of $30,000.00 in insurance coverage in order to operate a motor vehicle. If the guy that hit you has minimum limits of coverage, what do you do? You look at your own insurance coverage. Do you have "underinsured" coverage? That is the "UIM" coverage on your policy. "UM" is for when an uninsured motorist hits you. "UIM" is for when a motorist hits you and they do not have enough coverage to pay for your damages. Most of us do not know much about "UIM" or "UM" until we need it, and then we wish we had gotten more.
Honestly, if you have a significant injury in a car wreck $30,000 in coverage will not be enough to protect you from serious financial loss. On the flip side, if you run the red light and hit someone and only have $30,000 in coverage, that will not protect you from serious financial trouble, either. My recommendation is to get as much coverage as you can afford and, if you can, try not to have anything less than $100,000.00 in coverage. If you can afford more, do it. It only takes one bad wreck to make us realize how important that coverage is.
WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?
To continue the story:
An insurance adjuster comes by your hospital room a day or so after the wreck and wants to talk to you. You're on medication and pain pills and the adjuster is asking you details about the wreck. They want you to sign a paper to let them get your medical records. They tell you they can get this thing settled up for you and you probably don't need a lawyer...
Most of us would wonder at this point whether or not we have to talk to this insurance adjuster. NO YOU DO NOT. We also would wonder if we have to sign that medical authorization that the adjuster handed us along with a pen. NO YOU DO NOT. Most of us may wonder at this point if we should contact a lawyer? ABSOLUTELY. Why? Because a lawyer can explain what your rights are, how all of this insurance works, what the insurance company is obligated to do, and can guide you through the complexity of the mess you're in and fight for you for the best outcome possible under the circumstances of your case. That insurance adjuster for the guy who hit you has no obligation to you and their main priority is to pay the least amount of money possible on your claim. Your lawyer's obligation and priority is you. OVERALL, it is important to protect yourself with a good safety net. You never know when that ounce of protection will be worth several pounds of cure.
Rebecca Britton is the president of Britton Law, P.A. She and her firm handle cases where individuals or family members have suffered serious injury or death by the fault of another. She has practiced in Fayetteville since 1992, has served as President of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers (now known as the North Carolina Advocates for Justice), has received an A rating by Martindale Hubbell, and has been selected to North Carolina Super Lawyers for the last 6 years in a row, including the top 50 Women Super Lawyers for North Carolina. For more information or to contact Rebecca Britton, visit www.brittonlawfirm.com.