Insurance complicated in accident situations

TRAFFIC TALK

February 22, 2005|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN I first read Kerri McGuire's e-mail, I thought her complaint was about Maryland's insurance laws.

Ms. McGuire learned the hard way what the bottom line is when someone hits your car.

"I was the unfortunate victim of two traffic accidents within two weeks of one another in September," she said. "As most people may or may not know, Maryland is a `no fault' state. I am convinced this concept is the brain child of a careless driver. Basically it means that no one is at fault unless there is personal injury involved where a police report would be needed."

"I understand that `no fault' came about to keep people out of small claims court," she added. "What I don't understand is where it says in the law that if someone damages your property, the owner of the damaged property should have to pay for it. I know in past articles of Traffic Talk it has been brought up that you should drive not only for yourself, but for others as well. I just didn't know until recently that you would be paying for their carelessness as well."

The good news is that Maryland is not New Jersey, which is a no-fault state. Maryland isn't, according to information from Karen Barrow of the Maryland Insurance Administration.

Let me say that again. A driver who causes an accident is considered to be at fault.

If a police officer investigates, a ticket could be issued if the officer determines there was a violation of Maryland's motor vehicle laws. While this might sway a driver at the scene to acknowledge fault, it is no guarantee that the at-fault driver's insurance will kick in if the offending driver persists in denying responsibility. The case would have to go to court, where a judge would decide.

Ms. McGuire also complained, "Minor fender-bender? Oh yeah, the person that hit you, that's not their fault. That's why you have insurance and if you are lucky, the other person will admit fault and have their insurance pay for your loss."

Her chief complaint was that the other drivers, whom she believes to be at fault in the two accidents in which she was involved, refused to take sole responsibility for the accidents. With no one acknowledging fault, or if both drivers in each accident are determined to be technically "at fault," then Ms. McGuire's insurance would kick in as the default for repairs to her vehicle.

The insurance administration said that if it had been determined that Ms. McGuire contributed to the accident, even if the other driver was primarily at fault, then both drivers would be deemed to be "at fault" and each would have to go through his or her insurance company to have the property damage paid. That means that first Ms. McGuire would have to pay the deductible. Given that she was involved in two accidents, it means she would pay her deductible twice.

Ouch! What if the driver who is at fault does not have insurance? Or what if a driver is hit by a vehicle that is covered by insurance, and the other driver is clearly at fault in the accident, but the "at fault" driver lacks permission to use the vehicle?

In both cases, the driver not "at fault" for the accident would have to make a claim through his or her insurance company to get the cost of the damage repairs reimbursed and, again, a deductible would have to be paid. The good news is that what usually occurs in those instances is that the innocent driver's insurance company would pursue the at-fault driver to recover what the company paid out, including the deductible. If the insurance company successfully recovers any funds from the uninsured driver, then, and only then, would the amount of the deductible be refunded to the insured driver.

It doesn't seem fair, does it? Finally, it is important to remember that regarding insurance coverage, specific coverage such as comprehensive coverage and uninsured/underinsured coverage, is considered "not-at-fault" coverage because covered policyholders are typically considered not at fault when making a claim to their carriers for property damage and personal injury.

Got it? But even if a driver makes a claim against his or her insurance under these coverages, the "at-fault" driver is not necessarily let off the hook. The other driver is still considered to be at fault or negligent in the accident, if the facts support that conclusion.

I think I'll just keep my car in the garage from now on.

New day, new location

Starting next week, Traffic Talk can be read with your Sunday morning cup of Joe. Because of changes in the Howard County section, the column will be published Sundays, but not in my usual spot on page 3b, so keep flipping the pages until you find the column in the back.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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