LEGAL ACTION

Beware The “No-Fault” Insurance Myth

Question: True or false: “No-Fault” insurance cover all losses in an accident regardless of who was at fault? Therefore, I probably don’t need an attorney if I’ve been hurt in an accident.

Answer: FALSE

And that’s the No-Fault myth. No-Fault actually refers to the Minnesota statute that allows for both parties to collect from their insurance policy for some expenses like medical bills and wage loss promptly and without establishing fault. So far, so good. But here’s the fine print most people miss:

  • Full Coverage Only Meets State Minimums
    Often what is sold as “full coverage” only means your policy meets state-mandated minimums. More serious losses could easily exceed minimum coverage.

  • Your Losses Exceed Policy Limits
    If your injuries and wage loss exceed your policy limits, you will have to file a claim on the other driver’s insurance.

  • Other Motorists Under/Uninsured
    If the other driver does not have enough insurance or no insurance at all to cover your bills, you will need to file a claim on your own policy’s under/uninsured coverage.

  • Your Claim Is Disputed
    Your insurance company may dispute some or all of your claim, forcing you into a process called arbitration.

“Who is at fault?” will have a bearing on all of these scenarios, and requires an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you sort out and defend your rights.

So What Does ‘No-Fault’ Cover?

No-Fault only applies to the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) on your policy. If you are hurt in an accident, PIP covers medical costs, wage loss and replacement services (such as housekeeping) without waiting for the outcome of a lawsuit.Minnesota minimums: $20,000 for medical care, $20,000 wage loss per covered person.

Minnesota law also requires that drivers carry liability and under/uninsured coverage on their insurance policy. Liability coverage protects your assets if you are found at fault in an auto accident. Minimums: $30,000 per covered person, $60,000 per accident, and $10,000 for property damage.

Under/Uninsured coverage provides compensation for your losses when caused by another driver who has inadequate insurance or none at all. Minimums: $25,000 per covered person, $50,000 per accident.

You may also opt to carry additional insurance including Comprehensive (covers loss NOT as a result of a collision) and Collision (covers damage to your vehicle), but these are not required under state law.

Free Guide to No- Fault
The Minnesota Department of Commerce publishes a comprehensive guide to No-Fault called Auto Insurance: What You Need To Know.
Or call us at 1-800 4-RIGHTS, and we’ll mail you a copy.

Do You Have Enough Insurance?

You can always buy more insurance. The trick is to balance what you can afford with what you need to adequately protect yourself and your family. You may want to start by increasing your personal injury protection (PIP) coverage because medical and wage loss in a serious accident could easily exceed the minimum $40,000 coverage.

Again, in the interest of protecting yourself, you should increase your under/uninsured coverage as much as you can afford. In many cases, the only insurance available to compensate you is your own uninsured coverage.

You might be surprised by the low premium increase required to raise your PIP and under/uninsured coverages. Armed with this information, sit down and talk to your insurance agent about the benefits of increased coverage.

WARNINGS

R.I.P In Your S.U.V.

The Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) is the American icon of the 1990s. They’re stylish yet rugged, 4-wheel go anywhere yet practical, family friendly yet primed for a night out on the town. Riding high in an SUV you feel safe and in control. Right?

Wrong. While Detroit has done a masterful job marketing the SUV to look smart and feel safe, it has become painfully clear that something is amiss. Because of a higher center of gravity over a relatively narrow wheelbase, SUVs are much more likely to roll over than other vehicles. The result is nearly twice the rollover deaths and serious injuries each year for this class of vehicle in proportion to the number of SUVs on the road.

Safety advocates, plaintiff attorneys and several members of Congress have tried to force the industry to come clean on SUV design problems ever since production of the popular Jeep Cherokee and the Ford Bronco II in the 80s. But nothing happened until 2001 when the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) finally began including rollover potential ratings along with its front and side crash test data.

Despite the facts, it doesn’t appear that the buying habits of Americans will change any time soon. Previously the purview of upscale suburban families, SUVs are now the most popular vehicle among teenagers. Unfortunately inexperience and risk taking by young drivers coupled with the tipsy tendencies of the SUV are proving an even deadlier combination.

If you’re thinking SUV, check out the facts. PBS Frontline’s award-winning news documentary Rollover – The Hidden Story of the SUV is expertly chronicled. Hundreds of other articles and publications are also available on the Web. As Keith Bradsher, investigative reporter with the New York Times said: “It’s a myth that SUVs are safer than cars. People in SUVs die just as often as people in cars; they just die differently.”

PREVENTION

Introduction
There are as many different ways to look at the factors that make cars safe as there are different cars. Most people think of crash test results first. Important, yes, but take a closer look. Weight and size are critical factors that rank right up there with crash worthiness. Physics teach us that all else being equal, larger and heavier cars are safer than smaller and lighter vehicles. And in fact, statistics show that small cars have more than twice as many occupant deaths each year as large cars. So only compare crash test results between cars in the same weight class.

Structural design is also key. The front and rear end of the car you choose (sometimes called the crumple zone) should be designed to absorb crash forces by buckling and bending in a serious collision. Also look for a structurally superior passenger compartment, the last line of defense in a collision. The restraint systemin a vehicle combines seat belts, airbags and head restraints. All three work together to hold you safely in place while the structure of the vehicle withstands the crash forces.

Look Up, Compare Crash Worthiness
There are many organizations that report crash test results, but only a few that actually do the testing. The two crash test big boys are the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The venerable Consumer Reports organization combines accident-avoidance data from its own testing with crash statistics from the NHTSA and the IIHS.

NHTSA tests several of the most popular vehicles on the road by conducting full frontal collisions into a fixed barrier at 35 mph. In 1997 they added a side impact test that documents the damage caused by a deformable barrier smacked into the side of a car at 38 mph. NHTSA also started assessing rollover potential for certain SUVs and trucks starting in 2001. Cars are rated from one to five stars in each category, five stars representing the least likelihood of suffering a life-threatening injury in an accident.

IIHS began conducting offset frontal crash tests in 1995. This test runs cars into a fixed barrier just like the NHTSA test except that only half of the vehicle contacts the barrier. The IIHS believes this crash type is more likely to occur in real life situations and better tests the integrity of the passenger cabin. IIHS rates a vehicle good, acceptable, marginal or poor. By the way, the Institute also publishes several excellent reports that compare cars by accident statistics. The Status Report documents driver death rates by model and make. The Injury, Collision & Theft Losses report looks at the ways in which insurance losses vary among different kinds of vehicles.

Consumer Reports integrates NHTSA and IIHS test results with its own accident avoidance data to create the CR Safety Assessment. Each year, CR engineers and test personnel run more than 40 new cars through numerous individual tests. One catch: you must subscribe to Consumer Reports to receive the CR Safety Assessment on specific new or used cars and trucks.

Accident Avoidance + Crash Protection = Survival
You might think the safest cars on the road are those that do best in crash tests. Important and often overlooked, however, are cars that will help you avoid accidents in the first place. Several factors contribute to a vehicle’s accident avoidance performance including:

  • Braking
    Your brakes should stop your car in as short a distance as possible while keeping the vehicle under control.
  • Emergency Handling
    The farther you can push a car’s handling limits before losing control, the more safe it will be in an emergency situation.
  • Tires
    Tire condition will greatly impact both braking and emergency handling.
  • Acceleration
    Vehicles that can get up to highway speed quicker make merging safer.
  • Driver’s Position & Visibility

    When you are positioned correctly, you are comfortable and enjoy better visibility. Some vehicles also have better sight lines than others.

    Just the Tip of the Car Safety Iceberg
    Of course there is loads more safety information to consider when buying a car than listed here. Great example – the pros and cons of sports utility vehicles (SUVs). While size and weight provide more protection in a collision, a SUV’s higher center of gravity also increases the chances of a rollover. Anti-lock brakes have shown outstanding stopping power on test tracks, but have disappointed many safety experts on the road. We’ve all heard about the well-publicized failure of certain brands of tires. And we could (and probably will) write an entire newsletter on the ubiquitous child car seat.

Car Accident Legal Information

Car accidents involve insurance as well as personal injury law, so it is very important that victims of an auto accident contact a lawyer immediately. We will mediate between the persons involved in the accident and the insurance companies. We will attempt to prove liability by preserving evidence and interviewing witnesses. We also ensure that you receive proper medical care, and document your injuries so that you receive full compensation.

What Type Of Damages Can Be Recovered?

The term ‘damages’ refers to money awarded to the plaintiff in a personal injury case. Actual damages, also known as compensatory damages, are intended to restore a victim’s financial situation to a position roughly equivalent to what is was before the accident occurred. Actual damages can be awarded for medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, permanent disability, mental stress, and other similar hardships.

In some cases, punitive damages can also be awarded to victims of automobile accident and other personal injury cases. Punitive damages are funds over and above those actually incurred by the injured party. Used to punish the defendant for especially reckless or inappropriate behavior, punitive damages may also function as a deterrent for others.

Although juries are responsible for deciding the amount of damages awarded to a plaintiff, the judge can increase or decrease the amount if he of she deems the jury’s decision inappropriate.

How Is Liability Determined?

Auto accident liability is determined according to the laws of the state in which the accident occurs. Some states (like Minnesota) do not consider fault when deciding liability. Instead, each driver is responsible for his or her own losses. This does not always apply, however, if serious personal injury or major property damage are involved.

If you have been in an auto accident, you should contact a ‘Know Your Rights’ attorney. He or she can advise you of your rights and responsibilities and can answer questions specific to your case.

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