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Uninsured Motorist: Good News, Bad News

According to an article in the Herald Tribune, Florida has had some success in reducing the number of "uninsured" drivers on its roads due to the tougher laws passed years ago penalizing drivers for not having the minimum insurance required by law.  Before going out and celebrating your uninsured motorist coverage, consider the following.

The Department of Insurance deems anyone having the minimum required insurance as "insured," or not "uninsured."  However, an insured victim of a negligent but legal, driver, may still be unprotected for any damages sustained.  The minimum required insurance is simply not enough.

Florida law requires that everyone who owns an automobile purchase personal injury protection, "PIP" coverage, which pays their own medical expenses of 80 percent up to $ 10,000, regardless of fault.  Florida law also requires that drivers have property damage coverage of at least $10,000 in the event they are responsible for the accident and damage the other person's vehicle.  If you have this coverage, you are defined as "insured."

Unfortunately, Florida law does not require that drivers purchase bodily injury liability to protect those who may be injured as a result of negligent driving.  Thus, there is no coverage to compensate you- the innocent injured- for legally recoverable damages such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of future earning capacity or loss of enjoyment of life.

You cannot legislate common sense. That's optional.  Toward that end , Florida law does not require that divers purchase uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverages, or "UM."  Some people elect not to purchase UM coverage because they have good health insurance. Wrong.  Health insurance does not compensate the injured for the intangible damages set out above; that's why we purchase uninsured motorist coverage.  People who do not purchase UM coverage in essence place their fate in the hands of the wrongdoers.  In other words, they are hoping that the driver who caused the accident is responsible and purchased insurance beyond which is required by Florida law.

That may be a little too optimistic in light of the reasons which motivate people to buy insurance.  First, most people simply want to comply with Florida law and purchase the minimum, which as stated above, provides little or no protection.  Second, some people want to protect themselves from a judgment where their personal assets are at risk if the injured victim obtains a monetary judgment.  If there are no assets, there is no motivation.  Third , some people want to act responsibly and see to it that the person that is accidentally injured will receive compensation for his or her injuries.  Which brings us bask to wishful thinking.

Pretty risky, since that same article in the Herald- Tribune revealed that of some 2 million cars, 30 percent of all vehicles in the road don't even have the minimum insurance required by law.  A good percentage of vehicles may only have the minimum insurance required by law which does not cover bodily injury damages to the insured third party.

There were 216,245 accidents in Florida in 1992, of which 214,208 resulted in an injury.  Not a surprising statistic, when multiple two-ton "inherently dangerous" automobiles collide.

Uninsured motorists coverages permit individuals to reduce the risk of uncompensated injuries and take responsibility for their own physical and financial well-being.  Although the purchase of liability insurance will protect the person that is accidentally injured and may preserve personal assets from a judgment, it is uninsured motorists coverage that will provide compensation for the injuries sustained due to negligence.  Hopefully, the extra cost of insurance premiums for good coverage will be a waste of money.  However, common sense dictates that we drive defensively and hopes for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Attorney M David Shapiro

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