Editor's note: This is the last in a series of guest columns written by members of the Hernando County Bar Association to coincide with Law Week 2008.
Too often I find myself in the uncomfortable position of counseling injured persons about their automobile coverage after they have suffered injuries from an automobile accident. After this past year, where the Florida Legislature again decided not to make bodily injury coverage mandatory and even suspended the obligation to own personal injury protection coverage for a short time, there are many questions about auto coverage in Florida. I hope the following information will help you in purchasing and better understanding auto insurance in Florida.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP): This is an extremely valuable part of coverage for you, your family members and passengers no matter who is at fault. PIP also pays if you are struck by a vehicle while entering or leaving your vehicle, sitting in your vehicle, or walking along the road. The state of Florida requires you to have this coverage. Do not allow an insurance company to sell this coverage to you with a deductible. PIP covers 80 percent of medical expenses, and 60 percent of loss of income. Most companies will only sell $10,000 of PIP. The best companies offer extended PIP, which means you can purchase more than $10,000 in PIP benefits.
Bodily Injury (liability coverage): This covers everyone else from your legal liability and is important. This coverage will never cover injuries you suffer. So, if you have purchased high bodily injury coverage (as you should to protect yourself financially), you have insured your assets, but have done nothing to protect yourself (specifically if you are injured in an accident).
Medical Expense Coverage (MEDPAY): This coverage acts as a supplement to the PIP coverage for medical expenses only as discussed above. However, here MEDPAY pays 100 percent of medical expenses up to the MEDPAY limit that you purchase. In addition, MEDPAY can be used to cover the remaining 20 percent from your PIP. This also is extremely valuable and can be a great benefit if injured in an accident.
Under- or Uninsured-Motorists Coverage (UM or UIM): UM coverage is the most important insurance you can purchase from your insurance carrier. UM coverage protects you, family members and passengers when someone other than you is at fault for an accident. UM coverage is triggered when the at-fault party has no bodily injury insurance (very common in Florida because Florida law does not require a person who owns a car to purchase bodily injury insurance), or does not have enough bodily injury insurance (happens too often as drivers become penny-wise and pound-foolish when purchasing insurance coverage). My candid opinion is that any automobile insurance policy without UM or UIM coverage is almost not worth having as this is the most valuable protection you have when someone else is at fault.
Stacked vs. Non-Stacked: This can mean a great difference in the compensation you receive if you, a loved one and/or a passenger is seriously injured or killed by someone else's negligence. The principal difference between these coverages is that the total amount of protection under the stacked form is the total of the bodily injury or uninsured motorist coverage multiplied by the number of vehicles on your policy.
Under non-stacked forms, the limit stated applies per accident, regardless of how many vehicles you own or insure. If you have Non-Stacked Insurance and you own or insure two or more vehicles, call your insurance company immediately and ask for your insurance to be stacked. The effect will be that your limits will be multiplied by the number of cars you own. For instance, your 100/300 uninsured motorist limits will become 300/900 if you own or insure three vehicles.
Car insurance is not free. However, the marginal cost of having quality coverage is far outweighed by the benefits that coverage can provide during an automobile accident. I hope this outline of automobile insurance in Florida has helped you. Should you have any questions about your auto policy, or if you've suffered a car accident and you are not sure what the next step is, contact an attorney who practices in personal injury immediately.
Please buckle up and drive safely.
Jason M. Melton is president of the Hernando County Bar Association. His law practice is in Spring Hill. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.