Imagine that you— or a relative of yours, who resides in your household— is involved in a serious car accident with a motorist who is financially irresponsible. More often than not, this “at-fault” driver has insufficient insurance coverage to compensate you for injuries, or— he may have no coverage at all. This all-too-common modern day scenario leaves you hurt both physically and financially.

You can protect yourself from this potentially devastating situation by increasing supplemental uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (SUM/UM coverage) to your motor vehicle liability insurance policy. If you have the requisite coverage limits on all your personal vehicles, you are able to secure umbrella coverage that will further protect you in the event of a major accident that leaves you injured and disabled. It is an important self-help option that is generally affordable— and well worth the expense for the level of security that it provides to you and your family.

New York law requires every auto insurance policy to include basic “minimum uninsured motorist coverage” (i.e., for bodily injury, or death caused by an uninsured vehicle). These minimum levels of coverage are $25,000 per person; $50,000 maximum per incident. In the event of death, the maximum benefit payable under the New York statutory minimum is only $50,000: an amount much less than your life is worth to your family.

If the driver causing an accident has no coverage (e.g.: if his insurance has lapsed; if you are the victim of a “hit and run” accident; or if the vehicle hitting you is stolen, thereby voiding any applicable insurance) the “uninsured motorist” endorsement on your personal insurance policy becomes available to pay for your personal injuries.

In the event that the driver causing the accident has only statutory minimum coverage limits, the same minimum coverage amounts are again inadequate to compensate you for your damages. This “at-fault” driver is considered underinsured— and, unless you have appropriate underinsured coverage as part of your own insurance coverage, you may be left without the ability to recover all damages.

All insurance companies provide minimum levels of SUM/UM coverage. These minimum levels are set at the previously-mentioned $25,000/$50.000 limits. In most instances of serious injury, the statutory minimum coverage limits are grossly insufficient to compensate you for damages if you are involved in an accident with an at-fault vehicle which is uninsured or is “underinsured”— because they have only the minimum.

SUM/UM coverage protects you if someone who does not have adequate insurance injures you in an automobile accident. By increasing the limits of SUM/UM coverage on your own motor vehicle liability insurance policy, you will protect your ability to be financially secure in the event you are severely injured or killed in the course of operating any motor vehicle. This coverage is issued by your own insurance company and pays the amount of your damages in excess of the amount of insurance coverage carried by the underinsured, at-fault driver. In underinsured motorist cases, you are paid first from the at-fault party’s insurance. When that is exhausted, your underinsured motorist coverage applies. Your own insurance company will act as if it were the at-fault driver’s insurance company in compensating you.

Most drivers have inadequate SUM/UM coverage because most automobile insurance companies do not aggressively market this coverage. It is not in their financial interest to do so, and premiums paid for the additional coverage is minimal. In order to secure SUM/UM coverage above the minimum levels you must insure your personal vehicle at the higher coverage limits. For example, in order to provide for $300,000 of SUM/UM coverage, you must have $300,000 liability coverage limits for your private vehicle. You should check the declarations page of your insurance policy to verify your SUM/UM coverage limits.

In conclusion, SUM/UM coverage protects you when the at-fault driver has insufficient amount of insurance or none at all. Protect yourself from being damaged financially by buying this protection.

It is important to note that there are special procedures and requirements which must be met to collect under your SUM/UM coverage— and mistakes may be costly. For instance, in the State of New York, you need to exhaust the at-fault party’s insurance before your own coverage is triggered. If you fail to do so, you cannot collect under your supplemental uninsured/underinsured policy. It is also required that you put your own insurance carrier on notice of a possible claim when you are aware that a possible SUM/UM claim may be made. Due to circumstances beyond your control, this information is often not available until well after an accident. Thus, it is prudent to notify your insurance carrier of a possible claim at the time that you are involved in an accident, even if your injuries are thought to be minor at first. Too often, injuries thought to be minor turn into much more serious and severe injuries (such as a spine injury that progresses over time). Your insurance carrier also may become adverse to you if it believes that you somehow were at fault or disagrees as to the nature and extent of your injuries. It is important to consult with an attorney who has experience in automobile accident cases involving personal injury. In this way, you can be provided with the information and assistance you need to obtain the best possible results.

The most important aspect of SUM/UM coverage for Emergency Service Personnel who drive a motor vehicle many hours of the day is that this coverage extends to all vehicles driven by you or members of your household, including police vehicles, fire apparatus, ambulances, EMS vehicles, and rental cars. As a First Responder who drives a motor vehicle many hours each day, you are at far greater risk than ordinary citizens to injury in a motor vehicle accident. You are at risk while traveling at high rates of speed during pursuits, or during emergency responses, as you are on roadways under extremely dangerous circumstances. Protect yourself and your family’s financial security in the event of an injury.