It happends all too often. A new client comes into the office after being negligently struck by a motor vehicle operator who fails to carry any automobile insurance coverage. Recently, The Rotatori Law Firm settled an uninsured motorist case where our client was paid the full minimum uninsured motorist policy limits of $20,000.00. The client was a pleasant elderly women from Woodbury, Connecticut. She was struck by a Bethlehem, Connecticut operator who pulled out of a gas station into her lane of travel. The accident happened in Watertown, Connecticut on Straits Turnpike. The plaintiff suffered soft tissue low back injuries and treated with a Waterbury, Cnnecticut orthopedic surgeon and a Woodbury, Connecticut chiropractic physician. The client had some preexisting degenerative low back disc disease which would be expected for her age.
The legal problem was that the client "stepped down" her uninsured motorist coverage from $100,000.00 to the minimum $20,000.00 required by law. To save a couple of dollars, the client took some bad advice from her insurance agent. When she was hit by an uninsured negligent driver head on, her damages were capped by her $20,000.00 of UM coverage. What could have been a $40,000.00 to $50,000.00 case now became a $20,000.00 case because of some poor insurance agent advice.
The client had $100,000.00 of liability coverage. In Connecticut, generally, the liability coverage and the uninsured motorist coverage must be the same. The policy holder has the right to step down the uninsured motorist coverage. To do this, Connecticut General Statute 38a-336(a)(2) requires that the policy holder execute in writing a step down with a twelve point type disclaimer. The legal concept is that the insured have knowledge of his or her actions and informed consent. The first request our office made was to have the plaintiff's automobile insurance carrier produce the "write down" documentation. The automobile insurance carrier was able to produce proper written step down verification after pulling records from archives. It took the UM carrier six months to produce this documentation. This was actually faster than some carriers who have taken as long as a year to furnish this type of proof by way of discovery in cases we have litigated. The case ultimately settled for the full policy limits of $20,000.00. This was the maximum damages the client would have recovered pursuant to her automobile insurance contract.
A question that the client asked after executing the settlement documents was what happends to the negligent operator that who caused the motor vehicle collision but failed to carry the minimum $20,000/$40,000.00 of automobile liability insurance coverage required in Connecticut? The client was concerned that the negligent operator would not be held accountable for the damages that he caused.
The answer to this question was that the UM carrier, the Hartford Insurance Company, had the client sign a release and trust agreement. The Hartford essentially has the option to recoup what it has paid to its insured plaintiff as it is subrogated to the rights the insured might have against the party who caused the loss. Westchester v Fire Insurance Company v Allstate Insurance Company, 236 Conn. 362 (1996).
Our client, the plaintiff, essentially still has a legal duty to aid the UM carrier in any legal action necessary to recoup the insurance carrier subrogation interest.