DO YOU HAVE UMBRELLA COVERAGE?
Over the past several weeks, I have had two unfortunate situations that have arose in my practice that have prompted me to write this article concerning something called “umbrella coverage.” Despite its name, this type of insurance coverage has nothing to do with protection from weather events. As will be seen below, “umbrella coverage” is another layer of insurance coverage that is recommended in order to properly protect you and your family against judgments and lawsuits arising out of your negligence or the negligence of a family member within your household.
In one case, my client was significantly injured in a motor vehicle accident with a 17-year-old boy who had only recently received his drivers’ license. The automobile insurance policy on the young man’s vehicle had policy limits of $250,000.00 for the benefit of parties injured as a result of the negligent operation of the vehicle. The young man and his family live in a large home in an upper class Township within Monmouth County and, as such, it would seem that he and his family would have a reason to protect their assets over and above the $250,000.00 policy limits of their automobile insurance. Unfortunately, they did not have additional insurance coverage and, as such, given the significant nature of my client’s injuries, their personal assets could now be in jeopardy in the litigation.
In another case, a client of mine caused a significant accident in which a number of people were injured. Although I only represented her on the traffic tickets she received, both her and her husband inquired as to whether or not it was likely that they were going to be sued for personal injuries arising out of the accident. Similar to the family above, my client and her husband only had automobile insurance with $300,000.00 in policy limits to cover the injuries sustained by the other individuals involved in the accident. The client’s husband was a medical professional and, once again, had significant assets over and above the $300,000.00 policy limits which he and his wife should have protected. When I asked them if they had “umbrella coverage” to further protect them, they did not know what it was.
At a minimum, if you own a home and an automobile, you should have an automobile insurance policy that protects you against injuries you cause in a motor vehicle accident as well as homeowners’ insurance which protects you against injuries caused by you and your resident family members for negligent acts (other than an automobile accident) that cause injuries to others. All homeowners’ insurance policies contain an “automobile exclusion” for which the homeowners’ policy will not cover injuries to others as result of the operation of an automobile. If either of these policy limits are insufficient to “pay for” the injured parties’ injuries, “umbrella coverage” is intended to supplement your policy limits.
Typically, “umbrella coverage” is purchased to supplement the above referenced automobile insurance policy limits and homeowners’ coverage policy limits; often at a reasonable rate. Such “umbrella coverage” is utilized and necessary to protect assets when your assets are greater than the policy limits afforded by either your homeowners’ policy or motor vehicle policy. Unlike homeowners’ coverage, “umbrella coverage” does not contain an “automobile exclusion” and, as such, would be available to supplement automobile insurance coverage in the two scenarios described above.
Accordingly, while it is a good idea to review your insurance coverages on a regular basis with a qualified insurance agent or broker, you should always be cognizant of the amount of your automobile coverage and homeowners’ coverage in relation to the amount of assets you intend to protect. Importantly, regardless of the amount of assets you presently have, a judgment against you arising out of your negligent acts may last for 20 years or more and, therefore, assets which you accrue in the future may also be in jeopardy. So, regardless of the level of your present assets, it may be a good idea to protect your future with such “umbrella coverage.”
Should you have any questions concerning this article, please feel free to contact my office or, alternatively, immediately discuss these issues with a qualified insurance agent or broker.