A 26 year old woman (Jane) came to my offices in 1989, requesting my representation in a personal injury action. She and her girlfriend (Mary) had been in an accident a month earlier. Jane had been babysitting Mary’s two children until Mary finished her work shift that day. Mary (30 years old) worked at a local factory as a parts packager and was a single mom, with two girls, ages 8 and 12. The only car Mary could afford was a 1979 Buick. Because of her budget concerns and the age of the car, Mary (who had a good driving record, with no prior accidents) had only bought Illinois’ statutorily mandated (“minimum” – which at the time of the accident was $20,000) auto insurance coverage on the car. Her thinking was: (a) she’d never had a ticket or been in an accident; (b) she probably would not have an accident, and (c) even if she did (and it was her fault), what could they get from her? – So why should she pay more for insurance? My Client, Jane, did not drive, so she had no car insurance.
It was 8:50 p.m. the Thursday night that Mary was driving Jane home. It was dark and raining. While crossing an intersection, on a green light, they were broadsided (on Mary’s side) by a speeding pick-up, which failed to stop for its red light. The driver of the pick-up was intoxicated, with a blood alcohol reading of .19 – more than twice the legal limit. Because his license had been revoked after his second DUI conviction, he had no valid driver’s license; and he couldn’t get insurance without a valid license. On his way home after work that day, he had stopped at a bar and been drinking for some time before leaving the bar and getting into this accident with Mary and Jane.
Mary died hours after arriving at the hospital. Jane (suffering multiple contusions and fractures to her face and right arm) was admitted to the hospital and underwent multiple surgeries. By the time she arrived in my offices (a month after the accident), her medical bills exceeded $67,000 and were still climbing. Jane still needed further medical treatment, but was unable to get it because she had no insurance to cover the treatment. She was badly scarred and her fractured arm was not healing correctly.
I wish I could say there was some way that the catastrophic losses* for the horrific injuries suffered by these two young women could have been properly compensated, but in this situation (as in many similar cases), the driver was arrested, convicted and sent to jail for his third DUI conviction. He had no assets and lost his job when arrested, so he could not pay anything to Mary’s estate or to her children. The “uninsured motorist” coverage in effect under Mary’s policy was $20,000 but $6,660 of the $20,000 was needed to pay-off the hospital lien for Mary’s treatment before her death.
As a result of Mary’s decision to save some money by buying the cheapest (minimum) auto insurance coverage, Mary’s children received only $13,320 for the wrongful death of their mother. As for Jane, Mary’s $20,000 “uninsured motorist” coverage also applied, but the hospital and doctors who treated Jane for her injuries filed liens against the insurance proceeds of Mary’s policy and (after the hospital and doctors jointly agreed to accept only one-third of the insurance proceeds) Jane received the same $13,320: (a) to pay some (definitely not all) of her needed future medical treatment costs; (b) as partial compensation for the fact her face would be permanently disfigured and her right arm lost much of its strength and function; and (c) to partially recoup a small portion of the wages Jane lost while she was unable to work because of this catastrophic accident.
I share this sad story with you for several reasons. The first is that many people (good drivers) think they will never be in a serious accident or that the odds are heavily in their favor that they will never be involved in a catastrophic auto accident and suffer catastrophic injuries/losses. To that, I say “Don’t be so sure!” The foregoing story is not only real, but the fact there often is no adequate insurance or compensation available to pay for those injured in these types of catastrophic accidents is a frequent, ongoing problem, happening every day across our country. The more you drive; the closer you live to a metropolitan area; the further you drive to get to and from work and home, the higher your chances of being in a catastrophic accident!
People, especially in these current economic times, are trying to save money (as Mary was, in the foregoing story) whenever and wherever possible. One of the WORST places they choose to save is on auto insurance. This is not an advertisement for auto insurance, but instead is mentioned here to warn readers (of this Blog) of the fact that if you are going to be out there driving, on a daily basis (especially if you are supporting a family and have a good driving record), it is irresponsible both to yourself, as well as those who depend upon you for support, not to have adequate “uninsured” and “underinsured” auto insurance coverage, to mitigate the catastrophic losses involved in a serious accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist, should that happen to you.
As a point of reference, on 8/15/17, I received auto policy quotes for a 30 year old female driver (with no prior accidents or tickets) applying for auto insurance coverage with a reputable (“Grade A” rated) insurance company and was told that (at today’s rates) for the minimum (currently $25,000 in Illinois) auto insurance coverage, in a metropolitan region, the cost would be $ 726/year; for $100,000 coverage, it would be $860/year and for $250,000 coverage it would be $998/year. Put into perspective, the difference between the cost for the $25,000 (MINIMUM) coverage versus the $250,000 (TEN TIMES MORE COVERAGE!) amounts to only $22.67 per month!! Many people spend far more on their cigarettes, liquor OR Lotto tickets per month than $22.67! Take this math one more step further, if you paid this monthly differential ($22.67) for a period of ten (10) years (120 months) you would have paid an extra $2,720.40 more over a TEN (10) YEAR TIME PERIOD, but received an additional $225,000 extra in insurance coverage proceeds should a catastrophic accident occur!
Next point of reference – statistics regarding drunk drivers being on roadways is frightening. Traffic statistics for the year 2009 included “10,839 traffic fatalities in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes involving a driver with a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .08 or higher – 32 percent of total traffic fatalities for the year. . . [an] average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality occurred every 48 minutes.” [Alcohol Alert! 2009 Drunk Driving Statistics, 2011 AlcoholAlert.com] The fact that those who drink and drive may have their driving privileges suspended or revoked due to actions taken by the Courts and/or the various Secretaries of State, does not mean these drivers will stop driving. Instead, like in the foregoing story, the majority of them will continue to drive – especially as a means to get to and from their homes and their jobs. What do I base the foregoing statement on?
A Report, issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, dated October 2013 entitled: THE PROBLEM OF SUSPENDED AND REVOKED DRIVERS WHO AVOID DETECTION AT DUI/LICENSE CHECKPOINTS (at p. v.) reported: “. . . suspended or revoked (SR) drivers who continue to drive – which appears to be the majority – are about three times more likely to be involved in crashes and to cause a fatal death.” This same Report (at p. 7) also goes on to say that “Despite these potential consequences, it is estimated that as many as 75% of SR drivers continue driving during their suspension or revocation period.” Of even greater concern is that when their licenses are revoked, these same drivers are no longer capable of obtaining auto insurance. So, the question you should ask yourself with respect to this dangerous category of driver is: “Having lost their driving privileges and unable to obtain insurance – do you really think SR drivers will stop driving to get to their jobs, stop driving to go to the grocery store, stop driving to see their friends and family or stop drinking?”
Finally, the foregoing true accident is not the only way catastrophic accidents occur. There are many reasons serious/catastrophic accidents happen. Statistics showing serious injuries caused by illegal aliens without driver’s education training and/or licenses, licensed drivers talking on cell phones, texting, or reading texts, etc. account for an unbelievable number of catastrophic accidents annually. Other manners in which catastrophic accidents occur, but in which mitigating measures can be taken, will be addressed in future McDermott & McDermott, Ltd. BLOGS*!
*Read our upcoming Blog: “Substandard Auto Insurance Carriers” – Insurance Companies Are NOT Fungible!
*Read our upcoming Blog “Self Help To Lessen the Occurrence and/or Consequences of a Catastrophic Motor Vehicle Accident”
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