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Everyone who owns a home or has significant financial assets should be smart enough to know that they need adequate automobile liability insurance in case they are sued for personal injury arising out of an accident. But how can you protect yourself and your family if you are the victims of an accident caused by someone with no insurance or insufficient insurance?

Minimum Insurance Requirements

The following are the minimum liability insurance coverage requirements for automobiles registered in New York State:

Bodily Injury: $25,000 per person; $50,000 total per accident.

Death: $50,000 per person; $100,000 total per accident.

Property Damage: $10,000 total per accident.

Some states have even lower bodily injury minimums; some require only $10,000 per person and $20,000 per accident.

The minimum requirements in New York and, in fact, in all states, are clearly inadequate. If you are seriously injured in an accident caused by a driver with only $25,000 in coverage, it is unlikely that you will ever collect anything beyond the $25,000 insurance even if you obtain a substantial judgment against the negligent party.

Supplemental Insurance

New York law allows policyholders to acquire the same level of protection for themselves and their passengers as they purchased to protect themselves against liability to others. This is called Supplemental Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage. The way it works is that if the other driver has insufficient insurance, you make a claim against your own carrier for the excess. The claim is usually resolved by settlement or through arbitration.

For example, if you have bodily injury liability coverage of $250,000 per person with a total of $500,000 per accident, or a $500,000 combined single limit, you can purchase supplemental uninsured/underinsured coverage that protects you against the liability of others in the same amount. The supplemental coverage protects you even if the accident happens outside of New York. The cost of this coverage is modest compared to its potential benefits.

Why Don't They Tell Us About It?

Amazingly, most insurance policies written in New York State provide only the minimum $25,000 in uninsured/underinsured coverage. Many agents don't seem to understand the importance of this coverage. If you buy your insurance directly from a carrier without using an independent agent, the person you speak to at the 800 number may not be knowledgeable enough or motivated enough to recommend such coverage.

What to Do

Immediately check the declarations page of your automobile insurance policy. If your uninsured/underinsured coverage is less than your liability limits, contact your agent or carrier and increase it. While you are at it, make sure that your have enough liability coverage to protect your home and assets in the event you are the person sued.

- Robert F. Mulligan, Esq.

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