Monday, November 18, 2013

Do I Need Uninsured Motorist Coverage?

Clients frequently ask me what uninsured motorist coverage means and if it’s something they need to buy with their car insurance policy. In a perfect world, the easy answer would be no. Why pay for insurance coverage for other people who are already required by law to buy their own policies? Unfortunately, the reality in California is somewhat less idyllic. While it is true that California law requires all drivers to maintain sufficient financial responsibility (practically speaking, car insurance), the unfortunate truth is that far too many drivers are on the road without insurance coverage. In fact, as of 2004 -- the last year for which statistics are reported on the State’s insurance portal, just over 14% of California drivers did not have even the minimum insurance coverage required by law.

Many more drivers carry only the state minimums--currently $15,000 per person, $30,000 per incident, a level sufficient to cover only the most minor of accidents. As a result, California drivers are generally advised to carry Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage riders on their car insurance policies. Here is an overview of what each term means and how such coverage can help to protect you and your passengers.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Uninsured motorist coverage (UM) is insurance provided by your own insurance company which will pay you, and your passengers, for injuries caused by another at-fault driver who does not themselves have any insurance coverage for the accident in question. In other words, it’s coverage you buy for other people who might hit you. This type of coverage is necessitated by the fact, as noted above, that so many California drivers don’t carry sufficient insurance of their own.

Frustrating as it may be to pay for insurance which is essentially designed to cover someone else’s actions, the benefits often far outweigh the costs. While the cost of obtaining UM insurance varies depending on the amount of coverage, the company providing the policy, and the vehicles or drivers for which coverage is sought, the costs of an accident often greatly exceed any such premiums; frequently to the tune of several thousand dollars.

For example, according to statistics provided by the California DMV, the average cost of a level 1 accident--the least severe accident type on their scale-- is over $12,000; a number that greatly exceeds the usual cost of retaining UM coverage for several years. In other words, a single accident in which your insurance company pays you out of UM coverage is likely to more than make up for what most people spend on such coverage.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) is similar to UM coverage except that it steps in even when the other driver has insurance but where that person’s coverage is insufficient to pay for the extent of the damages they cause you. In other words, it’s insurance you buy to cover people who don’t buy enough insurance of their own.

There is one small catch to UIM coverage. The at-fault party’s available insurance is deducted from the amount your company will pay you out of your UIM policy. For example, let’s say that someone hits you and is found at-fault; causing you $30,000 in damages. Let’s further say that this defendant had state minimum coverage of only $15,000. Finally, let’s say that you have chosen to purchase UIM insurance in the amount of $30,000. After the dust settles, you’ll collect $15,000 from the offending party’s insurance carrier (their policy limit) and an additional $15,000 from your own UIM coverage ($30,000 in UIM coverage - $15,000 from the other party), for a grand total of $30,000 in damage compensation.

As this example demonstrates, a driver who did not buy UIM coverage would find themselves left with $15,000 in unpaid expenses as a result of the same accident. As with UM coverage above, the cost of obtaining UIM coverage is usually much less than the cost of covering the other party’s insurance gap out of your own pocket.

Health Insurance is not the same

Many people counter that they have health insurance that will cover the costs of treatment after an accident and ask if this will reduce the incentive to purchase UM and UIM coverage. The answer is a solid NO. Health insurance is not the same thing as accident insurance. Health insurance is not designed to compensate you for the whole of an accident, it only covers your medical expenses. Health insurance will not pay you for lost wages, will not pay to fix your car, and will not cover your passengers, unless they have their own health insurance coverage. Additionally, health insurance is often not comprehensive. Some medical treatments are not covered at all, others are covered only for a limited period of time, and still others are covered only after expensive co-pays and deductibles are met out of pocket.

Having health insurance will help to smooth the recovery process after a car accident, but it does not come close to replacing proper liability insurance in most situations. Don’t gamble with a patchwork of coverage when UM and UIM coverage are so readily available.

They’re required to offer

In California, insurance carriers are required to offer Uninsured and Underinsured motorist coverage with all car insurance policies that they sell in the state. If you need more information about obtaining this kind of coverage for you or your family, we strongly recommend that you contact your insurance carrier immediately for details. Further, if you have been involved in an accident, we can aggressively handle your case so you can recover all that is owed to you; including the claims that may fall under your UM and UIM coverage in your own insurance policy.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Early Parole for Juveniles is the Right Move for California

Elizabeth Lazano, center, was 16 when she was sentenced to
life in prison for a murder her boyfriend committed

“How we treat our children defines our society and defines us as human beings,” says California Democratic State Senator Leland Yee. Unfortunately, when it comes to criminal justice, the United States doesn’t have a great record with regard to child defendants. Currently California has over 6,500 inmates serving adult style sentences for crimes they committed as children, 309 of these teens were incarcerated for life. While some of these kids may have deserved a harsh sentence, almost half were convicted as accomplices only and some are currently leading exemplary lives.

Elizabeth’s story

Inmate Elizabeth Lozano is one of them. Involved with an LA street gang in the early 1990s at the age of only 16, Elizabeth was present when her boyfriend shot and killed another gang member. Sent to Mexico by her frightened parents, Elizabeth returned to the United States two years later, then pregnant with her son and completely unaware that she was a wanted person. She was shortly arrested for the two-year old killing and was eventually sentenced to life without parole as an accomplice to the murder. Elizabeth played no direct role in the victim’s death.

Today, Elizabeth has most of a college degree and works as a prison counselor helping to keep other kids out of the gang lifestyle. She is now 37 years old and has spent more than 21 years in prison for a murder she didn’t herself commit. While there is no denying the tragedy of the life lost in Elizabeth’s case or the pain suffered by the family of the victim, it’s hard to rationalize the additional cost of having to detain Elizabeth for a life sentence.

No mandatory life sentences for kids

The United States Supreme Court agrees, at least partially. In 2012 the court ruled that mandatory life without parole was inappropriate for juveniles, even those who are tried as adults, insisting that judges must have the latitude to decide the appropriate sentence taking into account the reduced culpability of children and the special circumstances of the individual situation. In the last year, California has gone two steps further, first requiring the state parole board to consider early release for minors convicted as juveniles and later requiring the board to do the same for minors tried as adults, even those originally sentenced without the possibility of parole.

Governor Brown agrees

Signed by Governor Brown in September of this year, Senate Bill 260 gives prisoners like Elizabeth a second chance at life. Opponents of early release argue that the crimes these children committed warrant harsh sentences, a position that is hard to support given the fact that so many of the affected inmates were convicted only as accomplices. “Our hearts go out to those families [of victims], but if it turns out there's a way of salvaging another life, shouldn't we also look at that?," says Senator Yee in a recent interview, espousing the opinion of a growing majority of psychologists and behavior experts. “Petty much everyone agrees [these defendants have] less culpability,” says children’s rights advocate Elizabeth Calvin.

It’s the right thing to do

Children are our nation’s greatest treasure. When teens, especially young teens, commit crimes, it’s hard not to feel some of the blame as responsible adults. Locking these kids up for life because of mistakes they made in their youth is just too convenient a solution, one that often ignores the larger social problems which may be root causes of some of the crimes under consideration. Fortunately the California legislature recognizes this and is working hard to strike a better balance between protecting victims and salvaging the lives of young offenders.