Auto insurance is important, even if we don't want to pay the premiums for it. For some, it seems unnecessary because you're a good driver, and for others, it's simply an extra layer of costs to a pile of existing bills. You'll be happy you have it if you are ever in an accident. It helps protect you against financial hardship and the emotional impact that hardship can have on a person. Auto insurance generally provides property, liability, and medical coverage, and almost all states require a minimum amount of it. Maryland is no exception. Below is basic information regarding insurance requirements and the claims process that you should know if you own and operate a vehicle in Maryland.
Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements in Maryland
You cannot register and operate your vehicle in Maryland if you do not have auto insurance. There are three main auto insurance coverages required by law in Maryland: (1) liability; (2) uninsured; and (3) personal injury protection (PIP).
- Liability Coverage: $30,000 for bodily injury per person; $60,000 bodily injury per accident; and $15,000 property damage.
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage: $30,000 for bodily injury per person; $60,000 bodily injury per accident; and $15,000 property damage.
- Personal Injury Protection: $2,500, but this may be waived if the policyholder's healthcare coverage duplicates the benefits of this protection.
Liability Coverage. This coverage protects you if you caused the auto accident. In Maryland, both bodily injury and property damage liability are usually lumped together under this category. If a claim or lawsuit is filed against you, liability coverage will pay up to the policy limit for the amount of property damage repairs, medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering you are responsible to pay to the other party. In some cases when you are sued, this coverage will also pay for you to retain an attorney to defend you.
Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage. This coverage protects you if someone who doesn't have insurance causes an accident that damages your vehicle or injures you or passengers in your car. Generally, this coverage is applied when the at-fault party has no insurance, or if it was a hit-and-run incident, but it also covers instances when the at-fault party is underinsured, which is known as underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). UIM provides bodily injury protection where (1) the at-fault driver has an insurance policy with liability limits that are less than your UM limits; and (2) your injuries exceed the at-fault driver's available limits. If these two factors are present, you can claim the difference under UM coverage. For example, if you are the only one injured in your vehicle during an accident, and you sustain injuries that incur $20,000 of medical bills, and the motorist is from Pennsylvania and only has $15,000 bodily injury liability coverage, you can claim the difference of $5,000 under your UM coverage.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP). This coverage reimburses you, regardless of fault, up to the policy limit for medical expenses and lost wages. Reimbursement is only made upon request and timely submission of the proper PIP forms to the insurer. PIP coverage can be waived if a policyholder feels his or her own health care coverage is adequate enough to cover the costs of medical expenses in the event an accident happens and personal injuries follow.
Uninsured Motorists in Maryland
According to Insurance Research Council, one in eight (or 12.6%) drivers nationwide are uninsured. In Maryland, the rate is just under that national average; an estimate of 12.2% of drivers do not have auto insurance in Maryland.
If you do not carry current auto insurance, you can be fined and have both your driver's license and registration suspended. Additionally, if you cause an accident, you can be sued for the damages and personal injuries that flow from that accident. The financial and collateral hardships to you for not maintaining the minimum required auto insurance can be significant and life-changing.
Maryland's At-Fault System
For most states, fault determines who pays the costs of property damage and personal injuries when an auto collision occurs. The minority of states subscribe to a variation of a no fault system that prohibits lawsuits and requires parties to an accident to file claims with their own respective insurance providers for compensation. Fault-based systems generally allow recovery of both economic and non-economic damages and, to a certain extent, punitive damages. No Fault systems allow recovery for economic damages only unless certain limited circumstances are applicable.
Maryland is included within the majority of states who follow an at-fault system, otherwise known as tort states. As such, these states allow persons in automobile collisions to file claims and/or lawsuits against the at-fault party(s). Typically, when such a claim is filed, the costs are paid by the at-fault party's insurance provider in accordance with the policy.
Maryland, however, is part of a handful of states as well as the District of Columbia, that adheres to the pure contributory negligence doctrine. Thus, though you may be able to file a claim or lawsuit against the at-fault party in Maryland, if you were responsible in any shape or form, regardless how little it was, the pure contributory negligence doctrine completely bars you from recovering compensation. This law is quite harsh and, because of the harshness, is the reason why only a handful of states (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama) and Washington, D.C. follow it.
The Claims Process in Maryland
To file a claim in Maryland, the process should be straight forward, but unfortunately, it isn't. There are two types of claims that can be made: first- or third-party claims. First party claims are claims made to your own insurance provider. Third-party claims are claims made to the at-fault party's insurance provider.
To initiate a claim, you must contact your insurance provider as soon as possible after the accident occurred. Some insurance companies require notification within a certain time period, and as such, you should always be aware of the specific nature and content of your policy. When you contact your insurance provider, you should provide the following information:
- the other party's contact information;
- the other party's driver's license and license plate information;
- the other party's insurance information; and
- a brief summary of how the accident happened.
Some insurance companies allow you to provide the information online. Whether initiating a claim online or via phone, be careful about what you say with regard to the accident. It is always advisable to have a personal injury attorney present because what you say can be interpreted contrary to your interests if your insurance company finds it in their best interest to do so. Note that you are likely under a contractual obligation to give a statement to your own insurance provider, but you are not required to give a statement to the other party's insurance company. Therefore, do not give a statement to the third-party insurance company because it is more likely to use your words against you, and as noted above, if it finds any indication that you were in any shape or form responsible by at least 1% for the accident, it will use that information from your statement against you as a complete defense to not provide any compensation for your losses.
Once you notify the insurance provider, a claims adjuster will be assigned to your case. The claims adjuster will begin an investigation into the accident, which includes contacting the other party's insurance company, reviewing any police reports, medical reports, reconstruction reports, or other evidence that will help the adjuster determine fault. Once fault is confirmed, the claims adjusters from both insurance companies will negotiate a settlement, which should include coverage of all your medical bills, lost wages, rental car expense, or other related expenses up to the limit of the at-fault party's policy. If not all expenses are covered, then you can file a first-party claim for UM protection and PIP benefits, if the latter was not waived.
In more complex cases, disputes often arise, and though you believe your own insurance company to be negotiating a settlement in your best interests, they don't always, particularly if there's a possibility you may file a first-party claim for UM coverage.
The Role of a Personal Injury Attorney
A personal injury attorney's role in an auto insurance claim is simple: protection of your rights and interests in accordance with the law and your auto insurance policy. A personal injury attorney should be resourceful and knowledgeable about auto insurance policies and procedures and Maryland law related to car accidents. A personal injury attorney will investigate the matter and assess what happened and how it should be cured by a just and fair settlement or verdict if it should go to trial. And with regard to trial, the personal injury attorney should be experienced at trial; many attorneys may try to settle outside of court because they don't want to go to trial, but these attorneys gain a reputation for it and insurance providers benefit from it.
Personal injury attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian are experienced, resourceful, trial attorneys who get results due to their dedication, preparation, and performance. If you have been in a car accident in Maryland, you should not risk being manipulated and subsequently denied compensation for the whole gamut of your expenses originating from an auto accident. Contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.