The Franklin News Post recently ran a tragic story about an accident caused by a drunk driver that killed a Moneta man. Of course, the most tragic part is that a man lost his life. However, the details of the wrongful death suit settlement strike me as tragic as well.
You can’t turn on the TV these days without being bombarded by insurance commercials. Some of these companies tout their ability to get you “just what you need to meet the minimum requirements in Virginia.” They seem to wear it as a badge of honor that they will give you just enough coverage to be legal to drive, without regard to how much coverage you should have, and they will do so cheaply. This burns me up, especially in light of this recent fatal accident.
Let me preface this by saying that I do not personally know any of the parties involved in the accident. I just know what is reported in the paper and what they reported is that the gentleman who died was apparently not at fault in the accident, he was only 58 years old, and the insurance company for the drunk driver only paid his family $25,000. $8650 of which will go to attorney’s fees (which may or may not have been necessary to begin with, but that is a whole other subject), because that is the maximum Bodily Injury per person limit which the at fault driver purchased.
All of this is “OK” according to the Commonwealth of Virginia since they only require up to $25,000 per person / $50,000 for 2 or more people and $20,000 in property damage coverage. The amount of coverage purchased is “enough” according to Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles. However, if someone killed your family member, friend, spouse, child or anyone else that you care for, would you consider $25,000 (minus considerable attorney’s fees) to be fair compensation? I sure wouldn’t.
The deceased’s heirs may be able to pursue the personal assets of the drunk driver as well. However, he is facing some real jail time for this incident. So, I would not be real confident that he is going to have a lot of assets left after his criminal case is settled. The deceased’s heirs likely have the option of collecting under his own Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists coverage. Perhaps they will be able to get more fair compensation that way.
Now, let’s change the story a bit. Put yourself in the position of the person causing the fatal accident. You may have been completely sober and just got distracted briefly, causing you to swerve and injure or kill another motorist. You are still considered At-Fault and would likely be responsible for compensating the injured party. Would you be comfortable if your insurance company only had $25,000 backing you? Are you OK with the notion that your personal assets might be gone in the event of an auto accident? Further, do you think that it is RIGHT for you to do this kind of damage to the surviving family members and only give them a measly $25,000 as compensation? Would you want that done to you?
The bottom line is that state minimum liability insurance is just not enough in a catastrophic situation like this. Isn’t a catastrophic loss exactly what you buy insurance to cover you for? Take the time to really review your coverage with a professional independent insurance agent, not a call center rep answering a 1-800 number and definitely not a cartoon character from TV. I’m talking about a professional with the expertise to advise you on the proper coverage, not just spit out the cheapest price.
You have a responsibility to yourself, your family, and other motorists to do better than the state minimum. Besides, you can generally buy much higher auto insurance limits for very little extra money. Most importantly, you will be properly covered instead of legal to drive but barely covered at all.
Steve Holley is the owner of Holley Insurance, an independent insurance agency offering auto, home, business, and life insurance in Virginia. They can be reached at 540-334-4225.