St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorney
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Auto Insurance: What the Law Requires, What you REALLY Need

"Full Coverage" is the response I often get from new clients when I ask them about their auto insurance coverage following an accident. This was a term which was probably given to them by an insurance agent at the time they purchased their policy, but in reality has no legal significance. Too often I must resist cringing when I receive the actual coverage information from my client's insurance company. At those times I must inform my client that they don't have adequate insurance to reimburse them for their medical expenses, lost wages and other damages.

No single person or entity is to blame, for there are a number of reasons why the consumer is so often misinformed. As in all states, automobile insurance is required to register a vehicle, however in Florida the mandatory coverage is limited to Personal Injury Protection ("PIP") and liability for damage to the property of others. PIP benefits are available - usually in the amount of $10,000.00 to pay the initial medical bills of the vehicle owner, permissive drivers, passengers, and in some instances, blood relatives who live in the same house as the vehicle owner. One important caveat - while insurers offer a deductible on PIP coverage up to $1,000.00, don't do it. While the deductible may save $50 to $75 on the premium cost, if you are in an accident and need medical treatment, you will basically be self-insured for the first $1,000.00 of your bills and your medical insurance won't pay a penny until your PIP coverage is exhausted. Definitely not a good tradeoff for the minimal savings on your premiums.

Liability coverage for damage to the property of others is also required in the amount of $10,000.00. Liability coverage for personal injuries to others is not required. In other words, if a driver is responsible for an accident where the other driver sustains both personal injuries and damage to his vehicle, having the minimum coverage would pay for the repairs to the vehicle but not treat the driver. Listen, we live in a time of economic downturn which has left many people under or unemployed. As a result, many people begin their conversation with the insurance agent by asking what is the absolute minimum coverage they must purchase in order to keep their vehicle on the road. However, if at all possible, you should secure whatever bodily injury ("BI") coverage can be afforded. Being personally responsible for many thousands in medical expenses will be much more expensive in the long run.

As a corollary to wisely electing to purchase bodily injury liability coverage, Florida drivers should also, if at all possible, purchase Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist ("UM") coverage from their own insurance company. Because vehicle owners are not required to carry BI coverage, you do not want to be placed in the awful situation where you are injured by an at-fault driver, only to find out that he or she does not have liability coverage for your damages. In those instances, and also where the available liability coverage is inadequate, UM coverage can be used to help pay your damages. While health insurance may pay for one's medical bills, UM coverage is also available to pay for lost wages and "non-economic damages" or pain and suffering.

While we all purchase insurance with the hope that we'll never have to use it, until Florida law institutes mandatory BI coverage, drivers should elect more than the minimum auto insurance that the law requires.

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