Pay now or pay later

 

I have been practicing personal injury law for nearly 3 decades now. The one thing that has been consistent and truly amazing to me is how many people have no idea what type of automobile insurance they carry. This fact is not isolated to any gender, race or socioeconomic group, from truck drivers to heart surgeons it remains constant. They have no knowledge of their actual coverage until they have an accident. Trust me, becoming educated on insurance coverage when you actually need it is not recommended. Many times a client will just say they don’t know their coverage or limits, but most of the time they assure me they have “full coverage”. It never fails to make me laugh because they usually have no idea what full coverage entails. Those people typically have only the State minimum of PIP and Property damage liability. No coverage for Bodily Injury, Uninsured Motorist, Collision, Rental etc…Sound like full coverage to you? Here is a brief explanation of the various coverages available in Florida.

 

  • PIP/Med Pay: Pays for your medical expenses for injuries regardless of fault. (PIP is mandatory)

  • Property Damage Liability: Pays for damages to the other vehicle if you are at fault. (This coverage is mandatory)

  • Bodily Injury Liability: If you are at fault and injure someone, this pays for their damages.

  • Collision: This pays to fix your car or replace it if totaled regardless of fault.

  • Comprehensive: This pays to fix or replace your car if stolen or damaged by something other than a collision, such as fire, vandalism, etc.

  • Rental: This will provide you with a rental car while your car is being repaired or replaced regardless of fault.

  • Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist: This will cover you for injuries suffered from an accident caused by a driver with no insurance or not high enough limits to adequately compensate you for your damages.

 

Another thing I find fascinating is that most people who own older cars typically don’t carry collision coverage. That means that if someone runs into you and damages or totals out your car, you are at the mercy of the other driver’s insurance company to fix or replace your car. If you didn’t carry rental car coverage as most people don’t, you will be without transportation while the other insurance company is deciding if they are even going to cover the loss. Even with a clear liability case as in a rear end collision, it may take several days for the insurance company to respond. They usually wait until the crash report is done which may take up to a week. Recently, most police agencies don’t prepare crash reports or issue citations. Without some verification of the facts surrounding the accident such as a crash report or eyewitness, the truth tends to get hazy. They may also want to speak to their insured driver to get their version of the facts which may take some time. The truth is that they have little incentive to help you because you are not their insured. The insurance company may then contact you and tell you their insured said you were partially or even totally at fault. If they decide that you were 50% at fault then they will agree to pay to fix half of your car. If you accept that then you have to pay the other half out of your pocket. Now what is your next step? Your only recourse is to accept it and take the beating or sue them.

 

How many lawsuits have you filed in the past? Even in small claims court (claims under $5,000) it may take up to a year to get to trial. What are you driving during this period? You are out of pocket for a rental and the cost to repair your car at a minimum.

 

Several states have already begun the legislative process of addressing this tragic and costly behavior. 10 States already prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while operating a motor vehicle. 32 States ban novice or new drivers from using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. 39 States prohibit all drivers from text messaging while driving. The cell phone is not the only culprit but it is, far and away, the most prevalent and most deadly distraction that our young and inexperienced drivers cope with.

 

Currently Florida has no legislation whatsoever specifically addressing the use of cell phones, sending and receiving calls and text messages but instead, regulate the driving behavior through the enforcement of its Reckless Driving (F.S. 316.192) and Careless Driving (316.1925) Statutes. The time is right for our Legislature to step up and address this menace. We need more than just a piece of legislation; we need a three step approach. We need legislation expressly and specifically prohibiting sending and receiving text messages while operating a motor vehicle as well as requiring hands-free cell phone use. Secondly we need a No Texting While Driving campaign to get the word out to our teens and young adults of the incredible danger and third; we need a well structured and well presented public educational program with incentives on the dangers of cell phone usage and texting while operating a motor vehicle.

 

Our 2012 Legislature adjourned without enacting several bills regarding distracted drivers and cell phones and texting while driving. More than 70% of the Florida population supports the implementation of a cell phone and texting ban while driving. Senate bill 416 which would have prohibited texting while driving along with others of its type (SB 122, SB 930, HB 299, HB 187 and HB 187) all failed to become law. There is no shortage of knowledge and awareness of the magnitude of the problem. Once our legislature and our population as a whole recognize the severity of the problem and recognize the call to action needed, they will take and implement appropriates laws and regulations as well as educate our young drivers and make Florida’s road safer for all of us. With the carnage on our highways, we cannot afford to wait any longer. Take a moment and write to your Legislator and ask him or her to take the next step and begin to make our roadways safer for all Floridians. With the deaths on our roadways, we do not have the luxury of time.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,092 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in the U.S. in 2010, the last year for which statistics are available. An additional 416,000 were estimated injured in distracted driving accidents. Overall, approximately 18 percent of all car accidents involving injuries in 2010 involved a distracted driver.

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