To ensure peace of mind, know PIP and other auto policy terms

Published May 1, 2007

Too often I advise clients about their automobile coverage after they have suffered injuries from an automobile accident. Before I started practicing personal injury law, like most consumers I could not explain the policy I purchased from my automobile insurance company. Knowing what I know now, I would like to share with you some important information, definitions and tips for buying car insurance.

Personal injury protection, or PIP, is an extremely valuable part of auto insurance coverage for you, your family members and passengers. PIP pays no matter who is at fault. PIP also pays if a vehicle hits you while you are walking, or entering, leaving or sitting in your vehicle. Florida requires this coverage.

Do not allow an insurance company to sell PIP coverage to you with a deductible. PIP covers 80 percent of medical expenses and 60 percent of loss of income. Most companies will sell only $10, 000 of PIP. The best companies offer extended PIP; that means you can purchase more than $10, 000 of PIP benefits.

Bodily injury, or liability coverage, applies to everyone else who is hurt in an accident when an accident is caused in any way by your negligence behind the wheel. Bodily injury coverage will never cover injuries you suffer. So, if you have purchased high bodily injury coverage - as you should to protect yourself financially - you have insured your assets, but have done nothing to protect yourself if you suffer injuries.

Medical expense coverage, or Medpay, coverage acts as a supplement to the PIP coverage for medical expenses (discussed earlier) incurred by you, your family and passengers. Medpay pays 100 percent of all medical expenses up to the amount of the Medpay coverage you purchased. With high medical expenses, this can be an extremely valuable benefit.

Under- or uninsured motorists coverage, also known as UM or UIM, is the most important insurance you can purchase from your insurance company. UM coverage protects you, your family members and passengers when someone other than you caused the accident. UM coverage is triggered when the at-fault party has no bodily injury insurance or does not have enough insurance.

Because Florida law does not require a person who owns a car to have bodily injury insurance, it is common for motorists to have no insurance or inadequate bodily injury insurance.

The need for UM coverage in Florida is great because so many drivers are penny-wise and pound-foolish when purchasing insurance. UM is the most valuable protection you have when someone else is at fault.

Stacked vs. nonstacked insurance can mean a great difference in the compensation you receive if you, a relative or passenger is seriously injured or killed by another's negligence.

There is a principal difference between these two types of coverage. Under stacked insurance, the total amount of protection is the total of the uninsured motorists coverage multiplied by the number of vehicles on your policy.

Under nonstacked insurance, the stated limit applies per accident no matter how many vehicles you own or insure. If you have nonstacked insurance and you own or insure more than one vehicle, call your insurance company immediately and ask that your insurance "be stacked." Your coverage limits are then multiplied by the number of cars you own. With stacking, instead of $100, 000 coverage limits, you could automatically have $300, 000 of coverage limits.

Of course, car insurance is not free. However, the cost of having quality coverage is far outweighed by the benefits that coverage can provide after an accident.

Should you have any questions about your auto policy, or if you were injured in a car accident and are not sure what the next step is, ask an attorney who practices in personal injury.

And please buckle up and drive safely.

Jason M. Melton is vice president of the Hernando County Bar Association. His practice is in Spring Hill. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.