Learn how to avoid a mistake in settling your Florida automobile accident case that could cost you thousands of dollars.
How would you like to be seriously injured in a Florida auto accident, have no money, owe $100,000.00 in medical bills, and the insurance company for the (literally) poor guy who accidentally hit you offers you his entire policy limits of $25,000.00 to settle your case? After investigating, you find out that this is all the money you will ever be able to collect from the negligent driver. Although it is obviously not going to solve all of your problems, you need money to put food on the table, so you accept the insurance company’s money.
Now, assume you find out just four days later that you might be entitled to $500,000.00 in Uninsured Motorist benefits under a relative’s automobile insurance policy. You might think that your prayers had been answered, but you would be wrong. By settling your claim with the negligent driver without getting the permission of the uninsured motorist carrier — EVEN THOUGH YOU DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THAT THE UNINSURED MOTORIST CARRIER EXISTED — you may have violated a Florida statute and voided coverage under the insurance policy.
Unfortunately, this scenario is exactly what happened to a client of ours. Our client settled his claim against the negligent driver without knowing anything about uninsured motorist insurance. Like most consumers in Florida, our client had never had a personal injury claim before, and did not really understand the different automobile insurance coverages and how they worked. He knew that the negligent driver had no money, had no assets or property, and had little probability of ever having enough money to make a difference to his damages. He actually thought he was fortunate that she had $25,000.00 in bodily injury liability insurance coverage, since liability coverage is not required in Florida and hundreds of thousands of Florida drivers don’t even carry that much insurance.
Our client didn’t know about Section 627.727(6) of the Florida Statutes that requires a person who intends to make an Uninsured Motorist insurance claim to seek the Uninsured Motorist carrier’s permission before finalizing a settlement with the negligent driver or his insurance company. This statute protects the Uninsured Motorist carrier, who may elect to pay the injury victim directly, and then seek repayment from the negligent driver. This makes a great deal of sense if the negligent driver was wealthy, owned property, or was likely to make lots of money in the future. Since most negligent drivers are not independently wealthy, insurance companies routinely decide not to pursue negligent drivers and approve these direct settlements.
In our client’s case, one of America’s largest insurance companies, decided to play hardball with our client and refused to approve our client’s settlement with the negligent driver. Despite the fact that the negligent driver and her family had no money and little chance of ever having money, the insurance company insisted that it had been prejudiced or damaged by our client’s settlement with the negligent driver — EVEN THOUGH OUR CLIENT NEVER KNEW HE MIGHT BE ENTITLED TO UNINSURED MOTORIST BENEFITS WHEN HE SETTLED his case.
Our client was forced to hire a Florida accident attorney, my firm, to help him. We had to file a lawsuit against the insurance company, and many tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees and costs have now been spent litigating this dispute. As of the writing of this article, the litigation continues. In order to help Florida accident victims understand how Florida automobile insurance works, I wrote a book, “Asleep At The Wheel”.