Victor Rao was in a coma for months after his vehicle was struck by a drunk driver in 2012.
He lost an eye, is paralyzed in one arm and still walks with a cane after many months in a wheelchair. His wife, Wilma, suffered broken bones and bruises.
The Raos assumed that because the liability coverage in their motor vehicle insurance covered the injuries suffered by the other driver that they, too, were covered to the same degree by the other driver’s insurance or their own.
Not so. Because the other driver was uninsured, they had to rely on what’s called Supplemental Underinsured Motorist (SUM) coverage.
This coverage is designed to cover or supplement payment of medical bills, lost wages and pain-and-suffering when someone is injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver.
The problem is that unless drivers actively purchase SUM coverage, they’re only covered for up to $25,000 for bodily injuries in New York. That’s hardly enough coverage for injuries as extensive as the Rao family suffered.
Nearly 15 percent of drivers do not have the legally required coverage. Yet many drivers have been stuck with these unexpected medical bills because they didn’t know such supplemental coverage existed, were unaware of their ability to purchase it and didn’t know cheap it is.
For about $33 a year for the lowest SUM coverage to about $135 a year for much higher coverage, according to one car insurance company, state residents can be better protected.
Now thanks to the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, they can be.
The governor on Monday signed a bill (A8519/S5644) that requires insurance companies to make available SUM coverage at the same level as bodily injury limits and removes caps related to such coverage. Insurers would be required to prominently notify customers at least once a year about the availability of such coverage, provide an explanation of what it is and urge them to consider it.
Those drivers who don’t want to pay for it can sign a waiver to decline it or pay for a reduced amount of coverage.
Because drivers can opt out, this is not a new unsupported expense being forced on New Yorkers. And because drivers will pay for SUM coverage through their premiums, it’s not a new unfunded mandate on insurance companies.
The law doesn’t take effect for six months. So if you’re just learning about SUM coverage now, you might want to play it safe and contact your insurance company now.
Don’t wait until it’s too late.