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COLUMN: New bill proposes to better protect drivers against uninsured

— There is a bill, which passed both the Senate and the Assembly this year that would, if enacted, better protect drivers who are involved in an accident with uninsured motorists. Let me explain.

I’m referring to supplemental underinsured motorist coverage. This is protection for consumers against uninsured or underinsured drivers. Currently, most insurance companies include up to $25,000 in SUM coverage for their clients. While this may sound like a lot, it isn’t if the insured driver is hospitalized due to a collision with an uninsured driver, especially if they are hospitalized for an extended period. Having more SUM coverage would better protect consumers if they are involved in an auto accident that caused them to rack up medical bills if the driver they collided with did not have insurance.

The legislation, which requires the Governor's action, would require insurance companies to clearly explain to consumers what SUM coverage is. It would also clearly provide the choice to opt out of purchasing at their current level or to purchase more SUM coverage. The bill proposes to require insurance companies, as they prepare their policies for consumers to review, to make SUM coverage the equivalent to the consumers’ "bodily injury limits" of coverage. For example, if a policy holder has $200,000 in bodily injury, then their SUM coverage would be $200,000, rather than $25,000. If the consumer would like to reduce or opt out of SUM coverage, the legislation also allows for this, too. Consumers would also have the option not to purchase SUM coverage at all, according to the legislation.

There have been many cases throughout New York where consumers have found themselves in the hospital due to a car accident with an uninsured driver. Many did not realize what they needed to purchase to protect themselves against these types of accidents and the insurance company only covered up to $25,000 in medical bills. After that, the consumer was on his/her own. Many times, medical bills went well beyond this amount.

Few drivers are aware of the value of supplementary insurance and insurance companies rarely offer supplementary insurance coverage above the statutory minimum. This bill, if signed by the Governor, will ensure that drivers are fully protected by supplementary insurance, equal to the bodily injury liability insurance coverage they select, unless consumers elect to lower this amount.

Assemblyman Will Barclay represents residents of Assembly District 120, which includes Lysander. He can be reached by mail at 200 North Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by phone (598-5185).

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