Uninsured motorist laws make a challenging case.
Laws dealing with UM coverage constantly changing
For me, I feel a sense of purpose when I represent an injured victim of an accidental, but nevertheless senseless, act of negligence. Sure, there is a lot of stress, hard work, legal pitfalls, politics and negative pre-conceived notions, but at the end of the day, I feel a great sense of pride for whatever I’m able to accomplish on behalf of my client.
When Kim Bonner requested that I write an article for The Docket, I wondered what I could offer to an audience of Sarasota lawyers, many of whom I am familiar with from working with or against them. There are a number o excellent personal injury lawyers in Sarasota, so to offer any comments is like “preaching to the choir.” However, I have noticed that a fair number of lawyers who practice primarily in other areas are marketing for personal injury cases, which is perfectly acceptable, since we are all entitled to as many clients as we can properly manage and represent. However, we owe it to our clients to be knowledgeable about the law to maximize their recovery.
Those attorneys who practice in a variety of areas tend to select only those cases they deem to be large, involving catastrophic injuries. Among the most challenging issues involved in those cases is determining the insurance coverage available. Obviously, the first level of inquiry is the amount of coverage of the negligent tortfeasor, but that is only the beginning of the quest. Uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage can often make the difference between a zero to marginal recovery and a great recovery.
The statutory and case law dealing with UM coverage is constantly changing, making it among the most challenging areas of law. For example, the injured victim may not have UM coverage, but he or she may be living with a relative that may have coverage available. In the case of children moving in and out of their parents’ home, the ambiguity of the current cases provides fertile ground for the persistent and creative advocated. In sum, for the purposes of UM coverage, a person can be a resident of more than one place, especially in the case of divorced parents.
If the injured client is hurt while driving a care not covered by UM, he or she may have coverage through another vehicle, depending on many factors barely covering in a day-long seminar. If your client is claimed to have rejected UM coverage, there are strict statutory requirements that must be met before the carrier can avoid coverage. Any rejection must be in writing and there must be a corresponding decrease in premium rates approved by the Department of Insurance that reflect the loss of valuable coverage.
When dealing with possible UM coverage, the attorney must be careful when dealing with releases offered by the tortfeasor’s insurance company. Those who are not up on current law may fall into the trap of not getting written permission from the UM carrier before releasing a negligent party. IN the small print of virtually every insurance contract, there is language allowing the UM carrier to pursue a subrogation claim against the negligent party for the benefits paid under the UM coverage. By releasing the tortfeasor, the claimant terminates the carrier’s right to get the benefits back. This oversight could easily cost the injured client valuable UM coverage that was purchased with his or her premium payments.
Handling personal injury cases demands the same legal research and attention to detail as every other area of the law. To be sure, the stakes are extremely high. The people you represent are hurt and afraid. They are scared that the pain will never go away and that their future financial well-being has been destroyed or is in serious jeopardy. We lawyers have to navigate their claims through the many mine fields that exist in this high stakes practice against wealthy insurance companies and their very worthy attorneys.