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Current Mandatory Insurance Laws Push Families Into Bankruptcy!

California’s new insurance law will increase coverage for all drivers, but the increase is too little and too late!  North Carolina personal injury lawyer Carl Nagle has issued an important warning to drivers across the country – “Buy enough car insurance coverage to avoid losing your home and your other personal wealth and assets!”:

Every state in the country requires drivers to carry liability insurance, which pays innocent victims if an insured driver causes an accident.  The laws that mandate auto insurance are called “financial responsibility laws”.  Connecticut was the first state to mandate car insurance in 1925 and, within just a few years, all states passed laws that required all drivers to purchase auto insurance.  Because car accidents were a leading cause of traumatic injury all over the country, state legislators agreed that drivers should be required to carry insurance which would pay for medical needs for innocent crash victims, and to cover car repairs for innocent drivers.

Mandatory Car Insurance Laws | Nagle & Associates

While these laws provide important protection to motorists, the original mandates have been very slow to change.  According to attorney Nagle, “the current amount of required coverage is tragically low in every state”.  For example, under current California law and in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, while a driver must carry auto insurance that pays for damage to other drivers’ vehicles, the total amount of required coverage for “property damage liability” is just $5,000.00 per accident.   According to data released by Kelly Blue Book and Cox Automotive in late 2022, the average cost of a new vehicle in the U.S. is just above $48,000.00.  In a total loss case, required coverage would fund only 10% of a total loss claim.  For repairs, even moderate collisions typically result in repair and rental car costs that vastly exceed $5,000.00.  Thus, the mandated insurance coverage is insufficient to cover most property damage claims in these states.

When reforms occur, they are always too conservative to provide real financial protection to at-fault drivers, and far too little compensation for victims of serious accidents.  In late 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsome signed Senator Dodd’s bill into law, reforming California’s law to increase the state’s mandatory insurance limits.  However, the statutory revision for property damage coverage only increased the total limit from $5,000.00 to $15,000.00.  This is the first change in 55 years.  Obviously, the “new” limit of $15,000.00 certainly will fall short for property damage claims arising from thousands of collisions for years to come.

The Protect California Drivers Act becomes effective January 1, 2025 and increases the minimum coverage amounts for bodily injury liability to just $30,000.00 per person for physical injury or death, and $60,000 for the claims of all victims injured by an insured collision.  According to Attorney Nagle, “this coverage is far too low to pay for the property damage claims and personal injury claims arising from most crashes.”

Injury claim coverage is also tragically limited under our current laws.  Bodily injury liability coverage is the coverage that pays an innocent victim who suffers injuries in an auto accident.  The coverage is typically issued as “split limits” coverage, with a per-person amount limiting the amount that any individual victim can receive, and a per-accident limit which is the total amount of injury claim coverage that must be shared by all victims of the accident.  The Protect California Drivers Act becomes effective January 1, 2025 and increases the minimum coverage amounts for bodily injury liability to just $30,000.00 per person for physical injury or death, and $60,000 for the claims of all victims injured by an insured collision.

By comparison, North Carolina has also revised the mandatory insurance laws for the first time in decades.  The current NC insurance laws require drivers to carry $30,000.00 per person and $60,000.00 per accident to cover crash-related injury claims.  Notice that the “old law” in NC matches the new law in California.  Again, we see that change has lagged behind the current reality considering the actual cost of car repairs and medical care in today’s market.  California’s changes fall far behind the mandates in other states.  New legislation in North Carolina will bring change for all policies issued after January 1, 2025.  The new laws require liability coverage of $50,000.00 per accident for property damage, $50,000.00 per person/$100,000.00 per accident for bodily injury.

North Carolina’s laws are actually more favorable than the vast majority of other states and, in most states, there is no movement to increase mandatory coverage limits.  Most states currently require bodily injury liability limits of just $25,000.00 per person and $50,000.00 per accident, and lower limits are required in some states.  For example, in Louisiana and Pennsylvania, the total amount of bodily injury liability coverage required is just $15,000.00 per person, and $30,000.00 per accident.  In Iowa and Hawaii, mandatory limits for injury claims are $20,000.00 per person, and $40,000.00 per accident.

According to Healthcare.gov, the average cost of a 3 day hospital stay is approximately $30,000.00.  This does not include surgical costs and, in many areas, typical medical costs are much higher.  For a car crash that results in ongoing medical care or surgery, the claim for medical bills alone vastly exceeds most states’ minimum mandatory limit for bodily injury liability coverage.  Thus, victims are often left with significant medical debt and zero payment for lost income or for pain and suffering.  Unfortunately, unexpected medical debt is a leading motivation for personal bankruptcy filings throughout America.

Very little is being done around the country to address these archaic laws and, as we see in California, when change finally occurs, it is often far too little to make any real difference.  Consumers, victims and drivers everywhere should invest the time to contact local legislators to request meaningful change.  Michigan, Maine and Alaska currently require all drivers to carry bodily injury liability limits of $50,000.00 per person and $100,000.00 per accident.  North Carolina followed this lead and passed new legislation that moves the limits to $50,000.00 per person and $100,000.00 per accident beginning January 1, 2025.  Even these revised limits are quite low considering today’s medical care costs.  However, the laws of Michigan, Maine, Alaska, and North Carolina show that higher mandatory limits have been deemed appropriate in today’s economic markets.  All states should follow their lead.

According to Carl Nagle, “I speak with collision victims every day.  I see how often crashes result in huge medical bills and other financial losses.  If you cause an accident and don’t have enough insurance to cover all victims’ claims, you remain personally responsible for all expenses and damages that exceed your car insurance limits.”  To avoid losing your wealth due to an accident, you should always carry liability insurance limits higher than the minimum required in your state.  Attorney Nagle recommends that every driver who has wealth to protect should carry at least $100,000.00 in property damage liability coverage, and $100,000.00 per person and $300,000.00 per accident in bodily injury liability coverage.  Also, to protect yourself, your family and your guest passengers, always carry high limits of Uninsured Motorist (UM) and Underinsured Motorist (UM) coverage.  UM coverage pays your injury claims if you are injured either by a driver who failed to carry insurance, or by a hit & run driver who cannot be identified after the accident.  UIM coverage pays you additional money in the event that a careless driver caused injuries to you or your guest passengers, but doesn’t have enough insurance to fully fund all of your injury claims.  UIM also protects your family members even if they are riding in another person’s vehicle.

Drivers should make careful, well-informed choices when purchasing auto insurance.  Always carry more than the minimum coverage required by law, and always invest in high limits of UM and UIM coverage.  Since auto accidents are quite common, and since collisions are a leading cause of serious and fatal injuries, this is the cheapest and easiest way to protect your personal wealth and assets.

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