Accident lawyers obtain compensation for injury victims. In some cases, parties at fault will have enough insurance or assets to fully compensate the clients of accident lawyers. But not always. What then? A 2015 court decision illustrates what all accident lawyers should be telling their clients.
Melissa Payor lived in her father’s household. However, her own New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company auto insurance policy provided her with coverage. She bought $100,000 of uninsured (“UIM”) coverage. UIM will pay compensation if one is injured by a careless driver who doesn’t have his own insurance. Or who doesn’t have enough insurance or assets to pay for the harm he caused.
CLIENTS OF ACCIDENT LAWYERS NEED TO PURCHASE ENOUGH INSURANCE
On April 2, 2008, Melissa was injured in an accident. The other driver had a $100,000 policy. She settled with that other driver. But the settlement did not fully compensate Melissa. So Melissa made a UIM claim against her father’s separate car insurance policy. Dad had $500,000 in UIM coverage. The father’s policy, though, had a step-down clause.
A “step-down” clause restricts UIM coverage to people who don’t have their own auto insurance policy. It applies when there is more than one car insurance policy in the same household. Therefore, New Jersey Manufacturers denied Melissa’s claim, based on the step-down clause.
Melissa appealed. She argued that the father’s policy was “ambiguous.” Accordingly, Melissa’s attorney claimed that she was entitled to coverage under the “reasonable expectation doctrine.” Her father would have expected that his UIM coverage would cover her.
Unfortunately for Melissa, the appeals Court ruled that there was no ambiguity. Melissa lost. The decision is found here.
This ruling shows why it is so important that you personally buy enough UIM coverage. I recommend a minimum of $500,000. Accident lawyers can’t get their clients more coverage after an accident has occurred.