Indiana Supreme Court rules in favor of injured insurance policyholders

The Indiana Supreme Court handed down a decision that is a big victory for injured people who are forced to fight their own insurance company to recover the damages they deserve. In State Farm v. Kimberly Earl and the Estate of Jerry Earl, Jerry Earl was severely injured in a motor vehicle collision with a hit-and-run driver. Mr. Earl made a claim for damages to his own insurance company, State Farm, under his uninsured motorists coverage. Even though Mr. Earl was making an insurance claim under his own insurance contract, State Farm argued at trial that the jury should not be told about how much insurance coverage Mr. Earl had bought. The trial court judge ruled that the jury should know about how much insurance coverage Mr. Earl had bought and paid for, and the Indiana Supreme Court agreed.

This is a big win for the people of Indiana and a reminder that no matter how powerless the insurance company tries to make you feel, justice can and does prevail.

Umbrella Insurance Coverage

Many insurance companies offer what is known as “umbrella” insurance coverage. This can come in different forms, and provide different benefits, depending on the particular insurance company. But typically this is insurance coverage that will provide you with added liability protection, and added medical insurance coverage, regardless of whether there is an injury caused by a motor-vehicle collision or an injury that happens on your premises.

You probably have automobile insurance and, if you are a homeowner, homeowner’s insurance. Each of these policies provides a certain amount of insurance coverage protection to you in the event that you cause an injury with your vehicle, or if someone is injured while on your property. Rather than increasing the amount of coverage protection for both policies, it is usually much cheaper to purchase a single umbrella insurance policy that will provide increased coverage protection no matter how or where the injury occurred.

You may be thinking “I’m very careful, and do not believe I would ever cause an injury, much less an injury that would cost more than the coverage limits I already have.” This may be true, but an umbrella policy can also protect you in the event that you are injured by someone who is uninsured, or whose insurance coverage limits are too low to fully compensate you for your injuries.

You should already have “uninsured/underinsured” coverage on your auto policy that protects you if you are injured by someone who is uninsured, or whose coverage limits are too low. But what if the cost of your medical treatment, or the value of your injuries and lost wages are more than your uninsured/underinsured coverage limits? In many cases, your added coverage available under an umbrella insurance policy will increase the amount of coverage available to you in the event you are injured by a motorist with no insurance, or with too little insurance.

Talk to your insurance agent about whether an umbrella policy is right for you. It can be the cheapest way to protect you and your loved ones in the event of a catastrophic injury.

Focus on your health

If you’ve been injured you should get medical treatment. Seems obvious, right? Someone recently called me to discuss his potential personal injury claim following a car collision. He was rearended and was clearly not at fault. Like most everyone, his auto insurance policy included Medical Payments Coverage, or “medpay.” This is coverage you pay for that will provide for payment of medical treatment you receive following a car collision.

This individual told me that although he was injured, he didn’t get any medical treatment because he feared his insurance rates would go up if the doctor submitted a bill to his auto insurer. So instead of getting the treatment he felt he needed for his pain, he just tried to “tough it out.”

I can’t say what factors auto insurers use to adjust insurance rates, but if you’ve paid for Medical Payments Coverage, and you need medical treatment, you should get the treatment your body tells you it needs. Nobody wants to see their insurance rates go up, but there is nothing more important than your health.

And remember, if you do decide to pursue a claim against the person who caused your injury, the medical treatment you receive typically is the single biggest factor in determining the value of your claim. If you elect to not get medical treatment, that will adversely affect what you will be able to recover from the at-fault party.

Small investment, big benefit to your health.

Your auto insurance coverage most likely contains something called “medical payments coverage” or “MEDPAY” for short. This is inexpensive coverage that takes care of your medical bills if you are hurt in an auto collision. Even if the other driver is at fault, you need to get the medical treatment you require without waiting for the other insurance company to stop dragging its feet. Your own MEDPAY coverage allows you to do that without affecting your rates. MEDPAY is also important if you have a high-deductible health insurance plan that requires you to pay a certain amount directly before your coverage benefits begin.

MEDPAY is usually provided in $5,000 increments. Unfortunately, most people only have $5,000 in MEDPAY coverage. You should talk to your agent or your insurer about increasing your MEDPAY coverage to at least $10,000, and preferably more than that. Having this coverage provides tremendous peace of mind at very low cost.

Body shops sue auto insurers

In a federal lawsuit, 14 Indiana automobile body repair shops accuse State Farm Insurance and competitors of extracting “unreasonable and onerous” concessions on vehicle repair costs. The lawsuit alleges that when a shop doesn’t comply with the prices set by the insurance companies, the insurers attempt to dissuade their policyholders from choosing that repair shop by telling the policyholders that the repair shop has quality issues or gets lots of complaints.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified financial damages and names 27 insurance companies including State Farm, which has the largest market share in the state at about 25 percent. Others with large market share include Progressive Insurance and Indiana Farmers Mutual Insurance Co. At the core of these cases is the relationship body shops have with insurers under what are known as “direct repair program agreements.”