February 10, 2009

Buying Auto Insurance in Maryland (Part 3): PIP, Medical, Rental, & Umbrella Insurance

We've been talking about why Maryland drivers should seriously consider upping their auto liability insurance to as much as their budgets can afford. (See Parts 1 and 2 of my series on "Buying Auto Insurance in Maryland," below.) People who have had the misfortune of being injured in a Maryland car accident are always shocked and amazed at how quickly their medical bills can pile up -- and how minimum liability coverage maxes out just as fast. Here are four more types of auto insurance coverage.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
Our clients are hard-working people who often don't have a lot of extra money to cover their medical bills and lost wages if they're hurt in a Maryland car crash. Personal Injury Protection or "PIP" is a no-fault coverage that serves like an "emergency fuel tank" for relatively fast payment of medical expenses and wage loss related to an accident. Under Maryland law, drivers are not required to carry PIP insurance, but it's a coverage you will want to purchase. If you're in an accident -- say that nice little old lady from my earlier articles rear-ends you on her way to church -- you can use your own PIP to pay your bills quickly. It's no-fault coverage, so even if the other driver's insurance company starts haggling with, "We're not sure if it's our client's fault...," you won't have to wait. Your own PIP will cover that nagging emergency room bill and a couple weeks of lost wages while the insurance companies investigate. It's also cheap--figure $30-$100/year.

Medical Payments Coverage
Med-Pay is a supplemental coverage, similar to PIP, that only pays medical bills (not lost wages), in the event you are injured or killed in a Maryland car crash. Again, it is inexpensive, and an excellent way to ensure payment of your medical expenses, quickly, after your accident claim.

Rental Reimbursement Coverage
If that little old lady damages your car and you're left without wheels, how are you going to get around? Rental insurance costs peanuts and provides you with transportation if you're in an accident and the other driver's insurance company investigates for liability. An investigation can take months and meanwhile, you're off the road and going nowhere fast. Get your own no-fault rental coverage and make sure it pays enough. Some rental only pays $10 or $20 a day toward renting a car in Maryland. That won't buy you much. It costs about $40 to $50 a day to rent a mid-sized car from a major car rental agency.

Umbrella Coverage
Last but not least, as you get older and accumulate more assets, there's an option called Umbrella Coverage. This type of coverage provides a "liability blanket," which sits above your other coverages and pays only in the rare event that your underlying coverage is used up. Take a close look at the value of your home, versus the amount of liability coverage you currently carry. If you are driving around with $100,000 of liability coverage and you own a $300,000 house, guess what you are going to lose if you accidentally kill or seriously injure someone, and your liability coverage exhausts? Umbrella Coverage costs about $100-$200 a year and protects your assets in the event of a catastrophic Maryland motor vehicle accident where you're found liable.

Our law firm is dedicated to fighting for clients who have the misfortune of being in a car, truck or SUV accident in Maryland. Auto insurance sounds kind of boring and people figure, "Why spend money on something I probably won't use?" Our advice is "Get as much auto insurance as you can afford." Trust me, if you're in an accident in Maryland, you'll be glad you did.

Related Web Resources

Maryland Insurance Administration:

A Consumer Guide to Auto Insurance

Other consumer publications for autos, motorcycles, and RVs

February 1, 2009

Buying Auto Insurance in Maryland (Part 2): Uninsured & Underinsured Motorists

Last month, we discussed why the minimum Maryland auto insurance liability coverage of $20K per person/$40K per accident, mandated by law, is risky business for anyone who drives more than that "little old lady who only drives to church on Sundays" that used car salesmen used to be so fond of. We recommended increasing your liability coverage to as much as your budget can afford, in the event you're liable in a Maryland auto, truck, or motorcycle accident where people in the other vehicle get hurt and you get sued. The other type of auto insurance required of all drivers under Maryland law is Uninsured Motorist coverage.

Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage for Maryland Auto Accidents
As a Baltimore Maryland injury lawyer, I've seen far too many personal injury cases where good people got caught up in a bad situation because they were involved in a Maryland car crash and they didn't have enough auto insurance -- and neither did the other driver. Or maybe the other driver didn't have any insurance at all, which is common in Maryland.

Liability insurance protects the other guy if you're found to be at fault in a Maryland car, truck, or SUV accident that causes personal injury. Uninsured Motorist coverage or "UM" is that same protection but flipped around to protect you. Say you're driving around, not doing anything wrong, and out of the blue -- somebody hits you. And that other driver doesn't have any auto insurance. Your own insurance company will stand in the shoes of that person and put on the negligent driver's hat, and will negotiate with you (and your Maryland car accident lawyer, if you retained one) -- just like the other driver should have. That's what UM coverage provides.

Minimum UM coverage required in Maryland is the same as liability insurance: $20K per person /$40K per accident. UM insurance also includes UIM coverage -- Underinsured Motorist -- where your insurance company will stand in for underinsured drivers as well. Say you get rear-ended by that nice little old lady and you need a back fusion, and you have a third-of-a-million-dollars in bills -- and she has minimum coverage, $20,000. You would receive her $20K, but then your insurance company would be responsible for the balance, up to the amount of coverage that you purchased. That's where we see UM insurance come into play all the time. If 10 percent of Maryland drivers are uninsured, a full third are tooling around Maryland with lousy coverage. So if you get hit by one of those guys, you won't be bound by their lower coverage if your UM has higher limits.

Liability and UM are usually bound together, so if you purchase $100,000 liability coverage, that's the most UM you can get. We recommend Maryland drivers get between $100K and $500K liability and UM. It's all about preparing for what we all hope and pray never happens. But if you are in a car accident in Maryland where personal injury occurs -- having more than the minimum car insurance helps protect your hard-earned personal assets.

Next installment of "Help! I've Been in an Accident!": Buying Auto Insurance in Maryland (Part 3): PIP or Med-Pay, Rental, and Umbrella Coverage.

Related Web Resources

Maryland Insurance Administration:

A Consumer Guide to Auto Insurance

Other consumer publications for autos, motorcycles, and RVs

January 21, 2009

Buying Auto Insurance in Maryland (Part 1): Bodily Injury Liability Coverage

In lean economic times, people cut corners in places they never did before -- cutting out visits to the doctor and other important things. It may be tempting to think about cutting your auto insurance liability coverage. But as a Maryland auto accident lawyer who's battled with insurance companies on clients' behalf for decades, let me advise you... Don't do it!

Karma is a funny thing. When people think "What are the odds...?" of their having a car or truck accident in Maryland -- and they cut their auto insurance liability coverage to save a few bucks -- next thing they know...along comes an accident. People should re-examine their Maryland auto insurance coverage every year, before the policy renews. Your financial situation changes as you move through life and career, and your auto insurance should keep pace if you don't want to lose everything you've worked for if you're liable in a car or truck accident in Maryland.

Why Minimum Insurance Coverage in Maryland Is Risky Business
Under Maryland Law, the minimum amount of liability coverage required is $20K for bodily injury per person, $40K for bodily injury per accident, and $15K property damage. That means if you're liable in a Maryland auto, truck, or SUV crash and the other driver gets hurt and sues you, your auto insurance will only pay a maximum of $20,000 per person toward any judgment rendered against you. If you're liable in a crash where four people are injured, then the maximum $40,000 coverage has to stretch four ways. You can see how it starts to add up. Sadly, these coverage amounts wouldn't even come close to satisfying a serious injury judgment against you. That's when the other attorney is put in the thankless position of having to go after your house or other assets.

If you've got something to lose -- a house, a retirement account -- INCREASE your coverage for as much as you can afford. Even if you're light on assets, you can increase your coverage to $50K per person/$100K per accident for maybe another 50 bucks a year. As you get older and acquire more assets -- increase the coverage to at least $250K per person/$500K per accident. Maryland lets you shop for insurance on the Internet and elsewhere, so long as the company you select is licensed in Maryland. Shop around and compare rates, and get the best liability coverage your money can buy. In the event you're in a car, truck, or SUV accident in Maryland and someone gets hurt and sues you -- you'll be glad you did.

Next installment of "Help! I've Been in an Accident!": Buying Auto Insurance in Maryland (Part 2): Uninsured Motorists and Other Optional Coverage

Related Web Resources

Maryland Insurance Administration:

A Consumer Guide to Auto Insurance

Other consumer publications for autos, motorcycles, and RVs

January 7, 2009

Maryland Car Accident Witnesses and Insurance Companies: A Race Against Time

If you've had the misfortune of being in a car crash in Baltimore Maryland or anywhere in the Mid Atlantic region, you may have suffered physical injuries and your car may be banged up, even totalled. On top of those damages -- you're in a race against time. My last two blog entries for "Help! I've Been in an Accident!" dealt with what you should keep in your glove box (Dec. 18) and why you should always call the police (Dec. 22). This article offers some insight on witnesses and insurance companies.

Ask Witnesses for Their Phone Numbers on the Spot
It's amazing how frequently people change their stories. If you're in a car accident in Maryland and other people pull over, remain calm. NEVER GET UPSET. Approach the witnesses and say, "Listen, you saw what just happened. I really might need you. Could I please have your name and number?" Most folks will agree to that.

Human nature is an amazing thing. Most of the time, when people react to an emergency, they'll do the right thing. They'll run into a burning car to save a stranger. But after someone witnesses a car or truck accident, a funny thing can happen. When time passes, people start logically thinking, "Oh crap. I'm gonna end up being the key witness in the middle of a six-month jury trial." Human nature's better side starts to fade away and people become reluctant to "get involved" as time passes. It's imperative, in an accident, to get the facts -- whatever they are, good or bad -- locked in right away before people have a chance to think too much. Get witnesses' information, then...

Call Your Insurance Company and a Maryland Car Accident Lawyer
Maryland insurance carriers have their car accident response routine down to a science. As soon as an accident is reported, outside adjusters -- many of them retired police officers or state troopers -- hit the ground running to evaluate what happened. You've seen these folks driving around in the Geico and Progressive cars. They will bang on your door and they can be a little bit intimidating. What they're doing is the same thing really that we're doing as Maryland auto accident attorneys -- they're going out to get the facts quickly and to lock in the story.

Nobody wants anybody to lie, but it really is a foot race when there's a car, truck, or motorcycle accident in Maryland. Time is not on your side. You may not know it, but the other party's insurance company is busily working and contacting people to swing the odds in their favor. It's very important to contact an experienced car accident lawyer who can work with your insurance company and get started right away fighting for you.

December 22, 2008

Maryland Car Accident Lawyer Advises: Always Call the Police from the Scene

As someone who's been a Maryland car accident attorney for much of my career, I understand the stress my clients feel when they've been in a car, truck, SUV, or motorcycle accident in or around Baltimore and the Mid Atlantic region.

A motor vehicle accident ruins your day. It's shocking, nerve wracking, and can cause personal injury and wrongful death. Even in the best-case scenarios where the driver walks away uninjured from the crash, the emotional and mental stress takes its toll. And sometimes when the driver walks away OK, the vehicle isn't as lucky. Damages can be costly and repairs can be time-consuming.

So I understand why, when an auto accident happens, sometimes people just want to get the heck out of there. The flight response kicks in. But let me give you some advice that could save you time, money, aggravation -- even your life: ALWAYS call the police from the scene of an auto accident in Maryland or wherever it happens. Even if the other driver says, "Let's just exchange information and not call the police." Bad idea. Here's why:

  • The police serve as a buffer between you and the other driver. People get hot under the collar after an accident and can become irrational and even violent. There are maniacs out there and people with guns and weapons in their vehicles. You don't know who just hit you or vice versa. Dial 911 from your cell phone and get the police on the scene asap.

  • The police keep everyone honest. There are usually two sides to every story and every car accident. Let the police ask the questions and sort out what happened. The other driver may not be as honest as you and may not have the proper documentation in his or her vehicle.

  • Ask the responding police officer to file a report. Even if the officer opts not to do this, he/she will provide you with an information exchange sheet, which will contain details and relevant information which you would perhaps neglect to get yourself. If you've been in an accident, you are probably in a fog and you may not remember details after the fact (see my "Just in Case" blog entry of Dec. 18, 2008 on taking pictures and notes at the Maryland car accident scene). Let the police do their job to document the incident.

The unexpected can and does happen on Maryland highways and roads. If you're in a car crash in Maryland, resist the knee-jerk reaction to just "exchange information" with the other driver and book it out of there. That person may be uninsured and may not even give you their correct name and phone number. Call the police. It's their business.

Next installment of "Help, I've Been in An Accident!": Witnesses, insurance companies, and lawyers (Oh My!).

Related Web Resources

Maryland State Police

Baltimore Police Department

December 18, 2008

Maryland Car Accident "Just in Case" Kit: Maryland Drivers, Keep These Key Things in Your Glove Box

Drivers navigating the highways, bridges, and roads of the Greater Baltimore Maryland and Mid Atlantic area don't like to think about being in a motor vehicle accident. No one does.

As a Maryland car accident lawyer representing people who've been injured in vehicle crashes for many years, no one I've known ever planned to have a car accident on the way to work on the Baltimore Beltway I-695 or on a bridge crossing Baltimore Harbor. They didn't plan to have a car crash half a mile from home while going out for pizza. But car and truck accidents do happen, and there are some things you should keep in your vehicle "just in case." Being prepared can make all the difference in coming out on the other end of your Maryland car accident in better shape.

License, Registration, and Proof of Insurance
The State of Maryland requires all drivers to keep their vehicle registration and proof of insurance in their car, van or SUV at all times. Most Maryland drivers know they need to have their driver's license on them and their registration in the glove box, but many don't know they also need proof of insurance -- that little slip of paper the auto insurance company gives you when you renew your policy every year. If you don't have it, that's a ticketable offense. You've already been in a car or truck accident, you don't need a ticket to add insult to injury.

A Picture Tells the Story (And So Does the Debris)
Buy one of those disposable cameras at the drug store and throw it in your glove box. They only cost a few bucks, and that way if you are in a car accident in Maryland, you can photograph and preserve the evidence before the police and the fire crews sweep the debris away. (You can use a cell phone camera if you don't have anything else on hand, though the pictures taken by cell phones aren't always the best quality.)

The plastic, glass, and other debris at an accident scene falls exactly where the crash occurred. If you survive your accident and it's safe to take pictures, do so. That way, when the other guy points the finger at you and says, "You swerved into my lane," your photos will show otherwise. (At the same time, if debris from your car is 4 feet into his lane, you're in trouble.) Keep a pen and pad of paper in your glove box, too, to record important information.

Next installment of "Help! I've Been in An Accident!" will cover why you must always call the police if you're in a car accident. It's the right thing to do -- and the safe thing for you.

Related Web Resource

Maryland Dept. of Transportation Traveler Information