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Supplemental Underinsured Motorist Coverage in New York State

Matthew Mosher Nov. 17, 2019

This will be the first in a series of posts about various aspects of personal injury law and practice in New York. Some, like this one, will contain information important to non-lawyers (actual humans with feelings and stuff) and others will be only for fellow law nerds looking for a primer on a particular issue.

The first topic I’ll be discussing will be Supplemental Underinsured Motorist Coverage in New York State. This one is for everyone. I’m sure you can barely contain your excitement. The most important thing you need to know about Supplemental Underinsured Motorist Coverage (also known as SUM or UIM to all the cool law folks) is that you absolutely, positively need to have this coverage.

Underinsurance coverage in New York State is optional, which means the insured must request this coverage and pay the additional premium or the protection will not be provided. The good news is that this coverage is inexpensive. This coverage applies if the other driver is covered by a policy of insurance, but the limits are inadequate to properly compensate for the injuries sustained by the injured party.

The scenario is as follows: Defendant is, to use a technical legal term, “a crappy driver.” Maybe he or she has had prior accidents, several traffic violations, or even prior convictions for Driving While Intoxicated. Because of their horrible driving record, this driver has difficulty obtaining liability insurance for their vehicle, and the insurance they do obtain is usually for the minimum in New York State which is $25,000.00. So now, this horrible driver is driving around with very little insurance to protect you and your family.

Let’s say this driver keeps up with his tradition of being a crappy driver and slams into the back of your minivan while he’s checking his Twitter feed on his phone instead of looking at the road. If this collision causes you or your family serious injuries, the most you’ll ever be able to recover in a lawsuit against him is $25,000.00 per injured party with a total limit of $50,000.00 for all injured parties. We all know that $25,000.00 doesn’t go very far these days.

This is where Supplemental Underinsured Motorist Coverage comes into play. After receiving that $25,000.00 and getting consent from your own insurance carrier to do so, you can make a claim against your own policy of SUM coverage. You are still required to prove all the elements of your lawsuit, but now the entity paying the award is your own insurance company. This payment from your own insurance company comes without a rate increase and is often much easier to obtain than the direct action against the defendant.

Case Study

This year, I represented a woman who was seriously injured by another driver who crossed over the double solid line and hit her head-on. She required several surgeries and suffered permanent orthopedic injuries. The negligent driver that struck her was covered by liability insurance in the amount of $100,000.00. I’m sure that sounds like a lot, but given how this collision affected her, it was woefully inadequate to compensate for her injuries. I obtained that $100,000.00 from the defendant’s insurance carrier after some litigation and negotiation. However, because the vehicle my client was occupying had purchased a significant SUM policy in the amount of $1,000.000.00, her case didn’t end there. Again, after significant litigation and negotiation, I was able to obtain the remainder of that SUM policy from my client’s own insurance company. My client instead of receiving only $100,000.00 for her injuries, received $1,000.000.00. For those of you who struggle with math, that’s a difference of $900,000.00. If you’ve sustained a life-altering injury, having Supplemental Underinsured Motorist coverage can make all the difference.

On your drive to the office today, watch all the crappy drivers. Watch that one guy that thinks the traffic merge sign doesn’t apply to him and races by you at 100 MPH in a 1996 Pontiac Grand Prix and cuts you off at the last second. Watch that guy and then call your insurance agent and ask him to get you some Supplemental Underinsured Motorist coverage.