First, you should not wait until a collision to review your insurance coverage. “UM” stands for “uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.” In FL, your insurance company MUST offer you UM insurance in an amount up to your bodily injury policy limits. You cannot purchase more UM than bodily injury coverage, but you can stack your UM limits if you have multiple vehicles on the policy. For instance, if you have $50,000 in bodily injury coverage and own 4 vehicles, you could stack the UM and obtain up to $200,000 UM coverage.
You may think, why do I need this additional coverage? Won’t the other man or woman’s insurance company pay to get my car fixed? The answer is “probably” but that may be all that gets fixed. Many, many drivers – maybe as much as 50% in NW FL – have zero or not enough bodily injury coverage. Sure, they may pay to get your car fixed, but what about doctor’s visit, lost wages, etc.? (PIP will come into play to pay some of these particular expenses, read on below). The reality is, with regard to bodily injury, all polices of auto insurance currently issued in FL must provide PIP benefits. That’s it. There is no mandatory minimum bodily injury as may be required in other states. We find an alarming amount of drivers have no more than $10,000 in bodily injury coverage (hence, “underinsured”); if any. At the end of the day, UM coverage is for your benefit. It protects you and your family if you are hurt and the at-fault driver has no coverage or inadequate coverage to compensate you for your collision-related losses. You should buy up as much UM coverage as you can. Therefore:
- Make sure you have elected UM coverage through your insurance company.
- If you have multiple vehicles, make sure you “stack” the UM coverage on all eligible vehicles.
Ok, so you’ve got adequate insurance and, unfortunately, you are involved in an auto collision. Now what? Take a deep breath and survey your surroundings – move your vehicle off of the roadway if it is safe to do so.
Call law enforcement – I cannot tell you how many times folks screw this one up. The other driver tells them “they will take care of it,” you exchange info, etc. – next thing you know the other party turns around and blames the collision on you. Make sure any independent witnesses are interviewed and their contact information recorded. Ask the officer for a copy of the exchange of information report following the conclusion of his/her investigation.
Take pictures (use your cellular phone) – not only of your vehicle, but the other driver’s vehicle and any indicators of the collision on or adjacent to the roadway (i.e., skid marks, or damage to the surrounding area caused by the collision). Photograph any visible injuries as well.
Talk to YOUR insurance company – you are under an obligation to report the collision to your auto insurance carrier. That being said, you are no obligation to speak with the other driver’s insurance carrier, which brings me to my next point:
Do not give the other driver’s auto insurance carrier a written or recorded statement. Do not speak with anyone besides your insurance company about a) injuries, b) liability (meaning what happened, who was at-fault) or c) your medical treatment (or lack thereof). However, it is OK to speak with an adjuster for the other driver’s insurance carrier regarding property damage if you want to get your car fixed in a timely manner. (I could spend almost as much time on the subtleties of property damage as this entry, but we will leave that for another day).
Practical tip: If an adjuster for the other party’s insurance carrier speaks with you, do the following:
- Have a pen and paper handy;
- Get this individuals name;
- Ask what department they are in;
- If collision damage department-> OK to speak w/ about getting your car fixed only (but make sure this is their only role)
- If in liability or injury claims department. -> tell them you do not wish to discuss these matters w/ anyone besides your own insurance company – don’t be fooled, they are not your “good neighbor.”
- Ask for a claim number. Write this down too.
Familiarize yourself with the timelines in FL:
- PIP – You have14 days from the collision to get yourself checked out by a physician (not a chiropractor) and be diagnosed with an “emergency medical condition” – otherwise, your PIP benefits may be capped at $2,500. PIP should cover 80% of all collision-related medical expenses and 60% of collision-related wage loss up to the first $10,000 (combined), so long as you are diagnosed with an “emergency medical condition” secondary to subject collision within 14 days of the collision
- Injury Statute of Limitations – In FL, you have 4 years from the date of collision to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver/owner of the vehicle for negligence, and 5 years to file a lawsuit against your own insurance carrier for UM benefits.
Get checked out by a physician within 2 weeks of the date of the collision – the sooner, the better – Often, it takes days to feel the full effects of the collision. You may feel okay initially, but develop pain or stiffness in the following days, or even weeks. Don’t wait too long to see a physician. Also, make sure the provider bills your PIP, not your health insurance. Provide them a copy of your auto insurance card.
Practical tip: Make sure you are seeing a “physician” as set forth by Fla. Stat., which includes providers licensed under chapters 458 and 459 (physicians – medical doctors, M.D.’s and osteopathic doctors, D.O.’s), 2) dentists licensed under chapter 466, 3) physician assistants licensed under chapter 458 or chapter 459, or 4) advanced registered nurse practitioners licensed under chapter 464. Conspicuously missing from the list is Chiropractors, who treat a very large percentage of people injured in car accidents.
“Emergency medical condition” means a medical condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity, which may include severe pain, such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in any of the following:
- Serious jeopardy to patient health.
- Serious impairment to bodily functions.
- Serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.
Assuming you were not at-fault for the collision, decide whether you want to bring a claim against the other driver, If you were at-fault, make sure you cooperate fully with your insurance company – your insurance company has a duty to defend you and indemnify you (up to your bodily injury policy limits so long as you cooperate and properly report the claim)
If you are not at –fault and you decide to bring such a claim, then call us immediately! Even if you are not injured, or if your injury is so small you don’t envision bringing a claim for damages, you should contact us anyway. This is because even if you do not require ongoing or follow-up medical treatment after the collision beyond an initial examination, you may be better off attempting, at least initially, to settle your case on your own but with our free legal advice to help you do this.