The most important car insurance number you don’t think of

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Let’s talk insurance.

I know, it’s dry like an overcooked steak. I understand.

But it’s also important, and in my world, it can be critical.

Today we are not talking about general insurance, however; we are talking about SUM insurance.

Many of you have probably never heard this term before; and that’s usually fine – that means you’ve never had to use it.

SUM stands for Supplementary Uninsured Motorist, and SUM insurance is part of your auto insurance policy. SUM encompasses both UM (uninsured motorist) and UIM (underinsured motorist) and is intended to intervene if you are seriously injured in a car accident, but the other driver does not have insurance or ( more likely) does not have adequate insurance coverage to protect/compensate you.

Here’s a fun fact: everyone in New York has a minimum level of SUM coverage, which means the good news is you already have some. The bad news is that the minimum limits are $25,000 per policy, which is woefully insufficient.

Let’s look at a common scenario in our practice: Person 1 – we’ll call her Jane – drives down the street and is boned by Person 2 – we’ll call her John – at an intersection. Jane breaks her leg in two places and, in addition to needing major surgery, she has a long recovery and is out of work for six months. Jane owns a successful chiropractic business and although she is able to get coverage while she is away, it costs her a substantial amount of money.

Jane comes to us for help, and one of the first things we do is investigate John’s amount of insurance to adequately compensate Jane for his physical and economic losses. Unfortunately, we learn early on that John has a minimal insurance policy and only maintains $25,000 liability coverage. This is insufficient, but it is also relatively common.

From there, one of two scenarios will occur.

In Scenario #1, Jane has New York State’s minimum SUM coverage of $25,000. Since this amount is the same as the other driver’s insurance, Jane cannot make a claim and she is capped at recovering $25,000 from the other driver’s insurance company. In most cases, that’s the entirety of Jane’s recovery, not even close to making her whole.

In Scenario #2, Jane thought about SUM coverage and increased her policy coverage to $500,000. Now, once she’s exhausted John’s $25,000 coverage, she can turn to her own insurance company under the SUM portion of the policy. Jane can now get something close to full financial recovery for her injuries and losses from the accident.

The kicker here – SUM coverage is relatively cheap. Adding substantial coverage to a policy may cost a few hundred dollars a year.

Our world deals with loss, fault assessment and risk management. Increasing SUM coverage is something anyone with a car can do, and it can make a significant difference if you end up seriously injured in a car accident.

It’s something I talk about a lot, for good reason. This year alone, several clients have come to me following a very serious accident, only to find that the other driver has minimal coverage and, importantly, the client also has minimal SUM coverage. This can be a very difficult conversation in cases involving seriously injured people.

The takeaway for this week: talk to your insurance agent or go online and look at your policy. Increase your SUM limits as much as you can. Like all insurance, I hope you never need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have it.

Coming next time: the flip side: do you have enough coverage?

If you have questions about SUM coverage or injuries after an accident, call us. We are always happy to chat. 518-308-8339, www.doraziopeterson.com

Disclaimer: This column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or the basis of an attorney-client relationship, which can only be made after consultation and execution of an agreement formal commitment.

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