We ALWAYS discuss the need for an Umbrella policy with our clients – here’s a great explanation from an attorney that reinforces the concerns that should shape your choices regarding primary and excess coverage! Whether you have assets and wealth to protect or not, an Umbrella policy should be part of your risk management program.
If you’d like to make sure the coverages you have in place are sufficient to meet your needs give us a call, we’re happy to provide you a review and audit at no charge!
Author: Jack Lessor
“Umbrella Insurance? What is it?
In the simplest of terms, “you don’t have to be a millionaire to be sued like one.” Contrary to popular belief umbrella policies are not just for the wealthy. Like an umbrella that protects you from the rain, an “excess liability policy,” commonly known as an umbrella policy provides an extra layer of insurance for coverage over your standard liability policies for covered claims.
An umbrella can protect your existing personal assets, your earnings and future earnings. If you were to lose a lawsuit, in excess of your auto and home liability limits, you would likely have to pay the winning party for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, etc. Even if you have no assets your wages can be garnished.
Who needs an Umbrella Policy?
Whoever drives a motor vehicle in the State of (insert your state here) should consider this coverage a must-have regardless of their income or lack of assets. The majority of claims filed under umbrella policies are auto-related, and since virtually all of us drive it should be a no-brainer. Here’s why.
There are** several million cars on the road without liability insurance; there are millions of cars on the road with inadequate liability limits, in the event of a serious or fatal accident.
An umbrella policy with $1 million in coverage (up to $5 million available), adding the Uninsured Motorist (UM) Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Rider will offer you a minimum $1,250,000 in coverage in the event of an accident that causes serious injuries or death, and you are not at fault.
In the event the accident is your fault your interests are protected to the limit of the policy.
Here is an actual occurrence that recently occurred:
Accident occurred on a 6-lane roadway, separated into 3 lanes in each direction by lane marking.
Vehicle #1, was traveling east in the left lane of a 3 lane roadway. Vehicle #2, was traveling west in the left lane of a 3 lane roadway making a left turn, and struck vehicle #1, causing driver’s neck to be broken in 2 places, plus other injuries, and totaling the vehicle. Driver #2 was 100% at fault. While attempting a left turn, failure to yield to on-coming vehicles is a prima facie case; vehicle #2 is negligent unless the vehicle had a green arrow.
Driver #1 had $100/300.000 bodily injury and uninsured motorist limits. They did not have an umbrella policy, and, therefore, could not have UM/UIM coverage. Driver #2 had a policy with $100/300.000 in coverage. Driver #1 collected $100,000 from both the other driver and their own UM/UIM. As driver #1 was left with chronic pain for the rest of their life, attorneys involved agreed that this could have been 7 figures.
Why do I need an Umbrella Policy? In case you are negligent.
- You have a momentary distraction while driving. Even the best driver can cause an accident with serious injuries, or even death.
- Your swimming pool attracts both invited and uninvited guests, regardless of the tallest fence or the most thorough precautions.
- Your teenager, while driving friends to a school event, runs a stop sign causing a major accident.
- You seriously injure a water skier while boating.
- While playing golf you hit someone causing a serious head injury.
- Today, parents can be sued because of something their teenagers write on Facebook. A blog post about a CEO, an entertainer or anyone could result in a defamation lawsuit.
Whether these lawsuits from traditional or newer risks are valid or not, customers often have to defend themselves, which can cost many thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses, if an umbrella policy is not in place.
How much do I need?
The right umbrella amount depends on where you live, your profession, your personal assets, future income and assets, etc. Liability coverage in home and auto policies rarely exceeds $500,000, yet “13% of personal injury liability awards and settlements are $1 million or more,” according to the report, citing data obtained from “Jury Verdict Research. ”
The amount of coverage you choose should bear some relation to your net worth. If you’re worth $1 million, a $1 million dollar umbrella is not going to protect you from a $2 million dollar judgment, since it would still be worth a lawyer’s time to go after your personal assets. It is not unusual to hear of $2 million, $5 million, or even $10 million court judgments against individuals.
Underlying Insurance Requirements: What is required?
Because an umbrella policy is designed to be a form of secondary insurance, it will have underlying insurance requirements. This means you will have to obtain a certain amount of auto, home, and boat, coverage as a condition of being approved for an umbrella policy.
Personal Injury exposure such as false arrest, libel, slander, malicious prosecution, etc., is different from bodily injury and property damage, and are defined separately in liability policies.
- Auto insurance: Bodily Injury coverage of $250,000 per person/$500,000 per accident.
- Auto Insurance: Property damage coverage of $100,000 per accident.
- Homeowner’s insurance: Personal liability coverage of $300,000.
- Homeowner’s insurance: Personal Injury coverage may not be automatic in the homeowner and umbrella policy. Some homeowner policies require an endorsement to add the coverage for an additional premium. To avoid having a “gap” in coverage you should make certain that personal injury coverage is provided in both the homeowners and umbrella coverage.
Who is covered? (Check your own policy)
- The insured and spouse; if the spouse is living with the insured
- Resident relatives
- Household residents under the age of 21 who are under the care of the insured
- Anyone using a vehicle with permission of the insured; owned by the insured; covered under the umbrella policy.
- Any person or organization that is legally responsible for the insured, while the insured is using a covered motor vehicle
What is covered? (Check your own policy)
Here are some of the prominent items covered by umbrella liability insurance: It is wise to check your own policy.
- Additional protection above your auto, homeowner, boat or rental property policies.
- Protection from claims by others for personal injury or property damage caused by you, a member of your family or household, or hazards on your property.
- Personal liability coverage for occurrences on or off your property.
- Protection against non-business personal injury liabilities such as slander, libel, false arrest or wrongful eviction.
- Legal defense costs and associated court costs for covered loss. If you are sued and held liable for $1 million, and your legal defense costs are $200,000, then a policy providing $1 million in coverage will pay the full claim plus the $200,000 for legal costs.
- Some policies provide worldwide coverage. An accident in a foreign country where your present liability insurance does not apply. For example, if you want to rent a car or jet ski when you are on vacation in Europe, you are covered.
What are some exclusions? (Check your own policy)
Some umbrella policies may be “follow form,” which means that if the coverage is not covered in the homeowner policy, then there is no coverage by the umbrella.
- Intentional torts or other willful acts by the insured (tort: an action, other than a breach of contract, that wrongly causes harm to someone, but that is not a crime, and is dealt with in a civil court)
- Damages arising out of business or professional transactions
- Intentional acts, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, assault
- Committing a crime (such as driving under the influence) and are forced to pay restitution
- Drag racing or any other high-risk unnecessary use of your vehicle
- Damage to your own car or residence (your auto and homeowners policy should cover it if not excluded)
- Directors and Officers Liability
WORDS FROM JACK LESSER, AUTHOR
Can you imagine the grief and terror that a family must feel when an automobile accident, causing the occupants to suffer serious injuries, renders them unable to work and earn a living? NO YOU CANNOT! Unless you’ve been through it yourself, it’s incomprehensible!
You might want to run your eye back over the last paragraph and appreciate every word of it, because the greatest misconception that people have is that it always happens to the other guy. Never to them. But, to the other guy, you’re the other guy.
From my soon-to-be 40-years of insurance experience (28-New York, 11-Florida), one of the most important things that I’ve learned is “there’s only one way to write insurance, and that’s the right way.”
Taken to the logical extension, I believe that not protecting yourself, and your family, with the aforementioned coverage could have far reaching implications for your lifestyle and well-being.
This is not a hair-splitting exercise in semantics; it is fundamental coverage that must be in place if your drive a vehicle. Other insurance programs are available to protect your lifestyle and the lifestyle of your loved ones.”