Your Guide to Understanding Car Insurance Coverage

Picture this: You are rear-ended on your way home from work. “It’s no big deal,” you think to yourself. “I have car insurance to cover me.” But then you learn that the other driver was uninsured. Then, after a few short weeks, your own insurance company wants to stop paying for your treatments. This is the same insurance company you have dutifully paid for months and even years.

What should you do?

In this post, I’ll try to make car insurance less confusing by breaking down the vocabulary, spelling out minimum requirements in Oregon, and explaining how insurance companies think. I’ll also tell you what you need to know before your next car accident so you can get the fair settlement that you deserve.


The Truth About Car Insurance

Car insurance is built on statistics. Insurance adjusters use special software to figure out how big a settlement you should get, with the goal of giving you as little money as possible. Insurance companies only pay about half of car crash costs on average, with crash victims collectively picking up about 26% of the tab, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association (RMIIA).

If you seek medical care in the first 72 hours after a crash, or if your injuries look like they’ll be permanent, an insurance adjuster’s computer program produces a higher value. It’s just a formula, so it’s quite impersonal. A computer doesn’t take into account the factors of your personal case, like pain and suffering. For example, are you an avid biker who rode the Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride last year, but now, due to a car crash, you’re unable to pedal? An insurance formula completely misses details like that, but a good personal injury lawyer won’t -- and neither will the jury.


Meanings of Different Coverages

Understanding car insurance gets easier when you’re familiar with these basic terms:

Liability insurance covers pays for injuries you cause to other people while driving. (Depending on your policy, it might also cover anyone driving your car.) In Oregon, you’re required to have at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident in liability insurance; those amounts cover bodily injury you cause to others. State law also requires you to carry $10,000 in liability per accident for damage you cause to other people’s property.

Physical damage coverage is optional and costs extra because it pays for damage to your car and your property even when you are at fault for the accident.

Personal injury protection (sometimes called PIP) is required in Oregon (it’s optional in other states). This pays for your first $15,000 in treatment costs, lost wages, and other expenses regardless of who was at fault. It also covers the passengers in your car and can pay even when you are a pedestrian or cyclist.

Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage protects you if, just like it sounds, you get into a collision with someone without insurance, or without enough. The two types of uninsured motorist coverage are bodily injury coverage and property damage. One in five people only have the bare minimum for car insurance, according to The New York Times. And in 2012, almost 13% of drivers had no insurance at all. Translation? Look at the 8 nearest cars. Statistics say one of them is completely uninsured.


How To Read a Declarations Sheet

A declarations sheet will spell out your insurance coverage for each vehicle, driver, and amount, as well as how those limits translate to your premium costs. Typically, the higher your coverage limits, the higher your premium. I’ve put together a graphic to help you understand your coverage:

You may also see things written as 50/100. Typically the first number is the amount your insurance company will cover per person, and the second number is total per accident (both in thousands of dollars). In this example, your insurance company may cover up to $50,000 in physical injury costs per person, and no more than $100,000 total per accident -- even if four people were in your car and would require $200,000 in total injury costs.


Things to Keep in Mind

You might have a phony examination

Early on, your insurance company may send you to get an “independent medical exam.” They will say this is to help them verify your injuries, but make no mistake, their “independent” physician is getting reimbursed by the insurance company to minimize your injuries. (He or she may even be watching you in the days before and after the exam to see if you act hurt.) The sooner you contact an experienced personal injury lawyer (such as myself), the better chance we have at fighting this fake check-up and getting you the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

You may need to sue your insurance company.

Filing a lawsuit after an auto accident can sound intimidating. Who wants to go up against the insurance giants? But it might be necessary. And if your personal injury lawyer has a strong track record of suing insurance companies and winning, you’re more likely to get a higher settlement. Your attorney will be able to evaluate the situation and advise you on whether to sue or settle in court.


Contact Adam Greenman Law

A good personal injury lawyer will fight for you to get fair compensation for your injuries. Let me help you get the justice you deserve. If you’ve had an auto injury or a loved one was killed in a car accident, contact us at Adam Greenman Law today.