Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. // Uninsured Motorist (UM)/Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Insurance — Don’t Leave Home Without It

motorway-300x224We have represented many people who have benefited from having UM/UIM insurance. We have represented many more people who have lost out by not maintaining the coverage.

UM covers losses sustained by the insured, passengers, and family members through the fault of a party who fails to maintain Bodily Injury (BI) insurance. Hit-and-run and “phantom vehicle” scenarios fall under UM coverage. UIM covers losses that exceed the limits of coverage available under the at-fault party’s BI insurance.

Florida is one of only a handful of states that does not require owners of registered motor vehicle to maintain Bodily Injury (BI) insurance, which is the type of third party coverage that compensates individuals damaged by an insured’s negligent operation of a covered motor vehicle. Since it is not mandatory and costs the policyholder more to maintain, a large percentage of motorists do not purchase the coverage. Instead, these motorists limit their coverage to the minimum mandatory of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Property Damage — Liability. (Property Damage — Liability operates like BI, but for personal property. From this curious arrangement, one could conclude that the Florida Legislature, who creates statutory law, places more value on personal property than on bodily injuries.)

Until the Florida Legislature decides to join the 21st Century and mandate BI coverage, the only assurance a Florida motorist has of being compensated for damages (bodily and economic) caused by someone else’s negligence is to maintain UM/UIM insurance. (The minimum UM/UIM coverage limit is $10,000. This coincides with the minimum BI limit. There is essentially no maximum limit. The premium is adjusted according to the coverage limit.)

UM/UIM cannot be purchased without also purchasing BI coverage, although the converse does not apply. Typically, the coverage limits are the same amount for each, although they can vary by choice. When BI is purchased, UM/UIM will be added to the policy (and charged for) unless the insured makes a written knowing rejection of maintaining the coverage.

UM/UIM insurance can be “stacked.” A common misunderstanding is that stacking always increases coverage limits. It does not. Increasing limits through stacking is known as aggregating, which is combining UM/UIM limits from two or more vehicles with stacked coverage. For example, the owner of three vehicles with stacked coverage will have available limits up to the sum of the three combined. Conversely, if none or only one of the vehicles maintained stacked coverage, aggregating is not available even if the other vehicles had non-stacked UM/UIM. Interestingly, aggregation is not the only advantage of stacking. If one vehicle is stacked and the other owned vehicles do not carry UM/UIM, the stacked coverage on one extends UM/UIM to the others.

If UM/UIM becomes part of the insurance policy, stacked coverage applies unless “the insurer informs the insured of the limitations of such coverage and the insured executes an approved form expressly electing non-stacking coverage.” Travelers Commercial Ins. Co. v. Harrington, 154 So. 3d 1106, 1113 (Fla. 2014). This requirement was put to the test in American Southern Home Insurance Company v. Lentini, (Supreme Court of Florida, December 19, 2019).

Lentini, the insured, was fatally injured while operating a motorcycle. Lentini’s estate sought uninsured motorist benefits under his American Southern Home Insurance Company (“American Southern”) policy issued on a 1992 Corvette collector vehicle. American Southern refused to pay, pointing to policy language limiting uninsured motorist coverage to accidents involving the covered collector vehicle. Florida’s Supreme Court rejected American Southern‘s position.

The Court began its analysis by debunking American Southern‘s contention that section 627.727, the UM/UIM statute, does not apply to specialty insurance policies such as the Corvette policy at issue. Rather, it agreed with the Fifth District in Lentini v. American Southern Home Insurance Co., 233 So. 3d 1258 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017), that “[n]othing in section 627.727 excludes collector or antique vehicle insurance policies from its application. To the contrary, section 627.727 explicitly states that `[n]o motor vehicle liability insurance policy . . . shall be delivered or issued for delivery in this state . . . unless uninsured motor vehicle coverage is provided therein.'” 233 So. 3d at 1261 (quoting § 627.727(1), Fla. Stat. (2015)).

After dispensing with this defense, the Court moved on to the stacking issue. While acknowledging that section 627.727(9)(d) allows for the exclusion of uninsured motorist coverage for injuries suffered in vehicles “for which uninsured motorist coverage was not purchased,” it noted that ‘”Lentini did not reject uninsured motorist coverage; instead, he selected stacked uninsured motorist coverage under the collector vehicle policy,”‘ and ‘”American Southern did not obtain Lentini’s consent for such a limitation.”‘ Lentini, 233 So. 3d at 1261.

We have witnessed many instances where the added expense of maintaining UM/UIM has been greatly offset by the benefits of having the coverage in place following an accident, especially a significant accident. Conversely, we have had other experiences where good individuals have been left to suffer both economically and emotionally for not having the coverage.

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Contact us at 305-758-4900 or by email to learn your legal rights.

Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

While prompt resolution of your legal matter is our goal, our approach is fundamentally different. Our clients are “people” and not “cases” or “files.” We take the time to build a relationship with our clients, realizing that only through meaningful interaction can we best serve their needs. In this manner, we have been able to best help those requiring legal representation.