Injuries and Insurance
by Lance Hester
In the legal business, we use the word “damages” to talk about the bad stuff our clients go through. There are two kinds of damages.
The first is what we refer to interchangeably as “special” damages or “economic” damages. The second is called “general” damages. Here’s the basic idea: The expenses of getting hurt are the “special” or “economic” damages. For example, injured cyclists, pedestrians, swimmers, and drivers incur expenses that add up quickly – ambulance rides, hospital bills, doctor bills, physical therapy, and lost wages.
“General damages” is the more subjective number associated with the pain, suffering, recovery time, and hassle involved in recovering from being injured.
Here’s a very general guide to the resources available when you’ve been injured by another’s negligence, and ways to protect yourself when the bad driver doesn’t have enough to cover your costs.
All too many drivers carry only the minimum required coverage of $25,000 to cover the special and general damages involved in these kinds of cases. As you can imagine, even a minor collision can exceed $25,000 in medical bills during an ER. On behalf of our clients we have to examine whether other sources exist that can help their claims. These include the following: UIM/UM Coverage (Un or Under-insured motorist coverage), PIP (Personal Injury Protection) and Homeowners coverage.
Ensuring medical expenses are covered is the most important initial objective after a collision. Every cyclist is well advised to have good health insurance and Personal Injury Protection (PIP coverage). PIP can cover medical expenses, but unlike health insurance it can cover services and lost wages. In Washington PIP coverage is optional coverage on your automobile policy, but we always recommend electing as much PIP as you can afford. If you are in a cycling accident caused by an automobile driver, there is a chance that the driver’s PIP coverage and your own PIP coverage can be combined for double the coverage. The point is that a bad injury may leave you needing lost wages and services covered. And if you don’t need those services, the PIP coverage will cover your medical expenses before your health insurance is tapped. PIP coverage is available while the case is pending. While a case normally settles once and for all at the end of the healing time, PIP is accessible in the interim, which is particularly helpful for those who, perhaps, lack health insurance.
UM/UIM coverage is something every cyclist should carry. Every day we see cases with substantial injuries and ultimately learn that the at-fault driver carried only $25,000 in insurance (or worse, was uninsured). This is your chance to be prepared for the worst. Further, if you carry the maximum amount your carrier offers, some carriers offer umbrella UM/UIM coverage which can give you and the rest of your household the most confidence you’ll be made closer to whole when the whole case concludes.
Homeowners coverage is a frequently used when other specific policies don’t apply. Homeowners is not likely to help when there is a vehicle involved. But it is available in the unusual, but not unheard-of, scenario of a cyclist causing another cyclist or a pedestrian’s injuries. And, as mentioned, if you have enough bodily injury coverage on your homeowners, you’ll be eligible to own an umbrella, which will raise all of your coverage amounts to the amount of your umbrella, usually $1 million or $2 million.
Because injuries are expensive, and because it’s hard to put a value on pain and recovery, cycling, pedestrian/runner, and automobile injury claims take a lot of capital to cover. At times we have to explore everything possible available to help make our clients whole. And sometimes it means tapping into their own insurance policies. You never know whether the people who might cause you pain will be adequately insured. The best way you can be prepared is to have the most PIP, UM/UIM, and Homeowners coverage you can afford. I haven’t begun to address what to do if the government, for example, might be responsible for things like failing to replace a drain cover or cracks in the sidewalk. One of us will cover that in a future article.
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