Every day we emphasize to clients and others we come into contact with the importance of having the proper automobile insurance. Florida’s "no fault" system does not require a car owner to carry bodily injury liability coverage to pay for personal injury damages to a person injured by the negligence of the car owner or anyone they may allow to drive their car. As a consequence, it is important for everyone who has financial and family obligations to carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to protect yourself in the event you are injured by the negligence of another driver. This type coverage protects you if the driver/owner who caused the accident either does not have insurance or has inadequate insurance (i.e. limits that are too low to fully compensate you for your injuries/damages). You have to pay for your own uninsured motorist coverage. While this does not seem fair, it is nonetheless necessary if you have financial obligations to creditors (as we all do) who do not care why you are unable to pay your bills. So far this sounds simple. Just get the uninsured motorist coverage and you have nothing to worry about, right?. Wrong. Most people who purchase car insurance rely on their insurance agent and never read their policy when it is received. This can be a big mistake as one of our clients recently found out. Our client was a resident of Georgia who decided to move back to Florida to be closer to her aging mother. The plan was for her to move in with her mom for a period of time until she found a job and got a place of her own. Her Georgia car insurer did not sell insurance in Florida. Upon moving in with mom, she started to look for a car nsurance company. Client’s mom suggested that she call the local "good neighbor" insurance company that insured mom’s car. When the client called, she told the "good neighbor" insurance company agent that she wanted "full coverage" just like she had in Georgia. In the discussion, the subject of uninsured motorist coverage came up. The agent advised the client that because she lived at home with her mom, who had uninsured motorist coverage on her (mom’s) vehicles, client did not need to purchase separate uninsured motorist coverage as it would duplicate coverage she already had through her mom’s policy. It was represented that when client moved out of mom’s house, she would need to purchase her own uninsured motorist coverage. (note: the insurance agent has not denied the client’s version of the transaction) Client purchased "good neighbors" insurance policy and paid her premiums by automatic bank withdrawal. If there had never been a car accident, client would have continued to pay, insurance company would have continued to collect, and that would be the end of the story. Natrually, things didn’t work out that way. One afternoon a few months after the policy was purchased, the client was driving down the road minding her own business when a vehicle made an illegal left turn in front of her. She had no time to stop and struck the vehicle broadside. The impact caused client’s car to roll several times and despite the use of a seatbelt, client was ejected from the car suffering siginificant injuries requiring emergency surgery to repair a severely fractured pelvis/hip and a lacerated arm. The client is still undergoing intensive physical therapy to regain the strength to walk without the assistance of a walker and has had several surgeries on her arm due to on-going problems with infection. Following the accident, client applied for Personal Injury Protection benefits through her own policy and Uninsured Motorist benefits through her mother’s policy (the at fault driver of the other car had no insurance and the owner only had minimal bodily injury liability coverage). Uon receipt of the uninsured motorist claim from client, "good neighbor" insurance company quickly denied coverage because while daughter was a "resident relative" in mom’s household for uninsured motorist coverage purposes, mom’s policy specifically excluded coverage for a household resident who was driving a vehicle not listed on the policy. Since client was driving her own car, this provision of mom’s policy excluded the client for uninsured motorist coverage! While the "good neighbor" agent may have overlooked this issue when advising our client about the coverage she needed, they didn’t miss the issue for a second when a claim was filed. Now our client is forced to pursue an "errors and omissions" lawsuit against the "good neighbor" insurance agent rather than simply filing a claim and receiving payment of the benefits she was told she would have if she was injured by an uninsured/underinsured motorist. The moral to the story is never rely completely on the "insurance professional" regarding what your policy covers. When you receive the written policy, read through it, at least the coverage and exclusion sections. Then, if there is anything you don’t understand, ask the insurance company for clarification in writing. If that doesn’t clear up the issue for you or if they refuse to give you a written explanation, it’s worth your time and a few dollars to consult an attorney before you find yourself in the same boat as our client and many others who depend on the expertise and the integrity of their "good neighbor" insurance agent/company. As I said, if this is a "good neighbor", I’m changing neighborhoods!
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