Ralph C. Buss
COVID-19: No match for uninsured drivers
You’re more likely to get hit by an uninsured driver than to get coronavirus
By Ralph C. Buss,
Motorcycle injury attorney
Everyone in the world is afraid of catching COVID-19, but as you’re out there enjoying the summer on your bike, socially distancing, washing your hands and wearing your mask in public, take heed of the fact that you are 10 times more likely to get hit by an uninsured driver than you are to get Coronavirus.
With 4.89 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the U.S. population of 328 million, statistically your chances of catching it are one in 67. But, with 32 million drivers out of 215 million licensed operators nationwide driving without insurance, if you’re unlucky enough to be one of the 12 million people involved in an accident each year, your odds of encountering an uninsured driver are one in 6.7, or 10 times more likely than contracting COVID-19.
According to insurance industry estimates, about 14 percent of drivers are uninsured, despite the fact that minimum liability insurance is a fundamental requirement for vehicle registration purposes in almost all 50 states. Worse yet, based on my own experience as a motorcycle accident attorney, most of those who do have insurance carry only minimum coverage - not even enough to cover minor accident injuries.
You can’t turn on the TV nowadays without seeing commercials for insurance companies competing to give drivers the least amount of coverage for the least amount of money.
The moral of this story so far, then, is: Protect yourself and your family by making sure you’re fully covered with adequate amounts of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage by including it in your policy.
With more than 7 million police-reported accidents on U.S. roads every year, the average driver will be involved in one once every 18 or so years. This means that, over the course of a lifetime, the average motorist will be in about four accidents. So, banking on the other person being dutiful and carrying the prescribed insurance coverage is a risky proposition for you, your life, your family and your livelihood.
Even if you’re not at fault in an accident, you might still walk away - if you’re lucky - with nothing but huge hospital bills, not to mention household expenses piling up without a paycheck with which to pay them. You could lose your car or motorcycle due to property damage that isn’t covered and you could possibly lose your home for the inability to pay your bills or mortgage while you’re laid up in recovery.
Ohio only requires drivers to carry $25,000 in bodily injury liability and $50,000 in bodily injury liability maximum coverage for everyone who is injured in an accident. Once again - from my own experience as a motorcycle accident attorney for going on 50 years, it’s common for a rider involved in an accident to sustain multiple fractures, generating medical and rehabilitation bills totaling $100,000 or more. Even minor accidents can total a $20,000 motorcycle, leaving a rider to pay off a bike he can’t even ride.
As you can see, it doesn’t take long for bills to add up, accumulating well over and way above state-minimum limits. Even if you have health insurance, your medical bills won’t wait indefinitely without payment before their respective balances get sent to collection agencies - adding insult to injury as your credit goes down the drain.
The examples so far have been relatively minor. The really serious injuries: crushed legs, head trauma (which can occur with or without a helmet,) severed spinal cords and the worst possible: loss of life can result in catastrophic expenses - in the hundreds of thousands of dollars up to and beyond millions in the very worst cases. Who’s going to pay these huge sums?
How uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance works
Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage pays for injuries and related expenses you incur for which the at-fault party is legally liable. The amount paid is subject to the limits of uninsured motorist coverage that you choose. This may include expenses such as medical treatment and lost wages.
Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage pays for the amount of injuries and related expenses that aren’t covered by the at-fault person’s insurance. In other words, underinsured motorist coverage is designed to cover the gap between the other person’s liability limits and the amount of your injury expenses, up to the underinsured motorist limits you select.
UM/IM is optional and cannot exceed your liability coverage limits and most insurance agents won’t offer it unless you ask, as it’s not part of a “full-coverage” policy.
I hear it all the time: “But it’s not my fault! I shouldn’t have to pay a dime!”
In theory, you’re right. But this is about reality and, in the real world, chances are that, if you are severely injured while riding, the person who hit you won’t have any insurance or won’t have enough to adequately compensate you for your losses. Moreover, he or she probably won’t have the assets to make up the difference. This leaves you with the empty and unenforceable judgement and the rest of your life to contemplate all the what-ifs.
Being injured in a traffic accident often carries costs in excess of hospital bills and vehicle repairs. Your injuries can prevent you from returning to work. In some cases, the impact to your earnings may be temporary. It can also be permanent. An at-fault driver’s insurance company will pay for your medical bills, assuming the driver has sufficient coverage, but they often fail to pay for loss of earning capacity. UM/UIM coverage can fill the gap and compensate you for your lost wages.
The best way to protect yourself, your family and your livelihood is CYA: Cover Your Assets. Do this through buying as much coverage as you can afford. A 100/300 policy is barely adequate. But it’s far better than what I’d wager most of you carry today. It’s relatively inexpensive and you may be able to offset the cost by choosing higher deductibles to lower your premium amount.
As a judge once told me from behind the bench: “The amount of UM coverage a person carries is in direct proportion to how much they respect themselves and their families.”
To sum it all up, it’s in your - and your family’s - best interest to talk to your insurance agent, review your policy and choose the coverages that best suit you and your circumstances. For example, if you have a family, own your own home, operate your own business and/or own other assets, plan ahead to adequately protect them.