Recently, I did a podcast where I was asked questions regarding what I felt were essential insurance coverages for Texans. The podcast was conducted in a question-and-answer format and ended up running about twenty minutes long. That podcast can be reached by navigating my firm’s website (www.abrahamwatkins.com) and it should be posted soon for all to hear. However, in the meantime, I wanted to discuss Personal Injury Protection benefits and how those benefits actually work following an auto accident.
With regards to automobile insurance, as we all know, we each must carry liability insurance in order to legally drive in Texas. Your liability policy provides coverage for damages that you are liable for. In other words, it will provide coverage to protect you from becoming personally liable for the accident. The purpose behind requiring all of us to carry liability insurance is to protect the general public. While Texas requires a minimum amount of liability insurance, you need to make sure that you carry enough liability insurance to protect your business or non-exempt personal assets. Simply stated, if you don’t carry enough liability insurance coverage, you may find yourself having to satisfy a judgment by selling your assets. While Texas is a debtor-friendly state, certain assets can be seized to satisfy a judgment; this is why you carry liability insurance. In any event, while I know that most Texans are familiar with auto liability insurance, I wanted to discuss Personal Injury Protection, one of the lesser known coverages afforded under Texas auto insurance policies.
First, I think it is prudent to carry a large coverage limit on the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) portion of your own auto policy. PIP coverage generally must be provided in, or supplemental to, every auto liability policy provided in Texas. You already have this coverage, unless you specifically signed or initialed an endorsement (from your insurance carrier) that excludes this coverage. To be sure, you should contact your insurance agent that sold you the auto policy and inquire, in writing, as to whether you have PIP coverage and how much you have. If your agent responds by saying that you do not have that coverage, I would recommend that you write back and specifically request PIP coverage and request premium rates for the various limits of coverage that are available from your insurer. Remember, you have PIP coverage unless you declined it, in writing.
PIP coverage is important because PIP provides no-fault coverage to the insured (the policy holder – you) in the event of an accident. PIP will pay for medical expenses (surgical, emergency, x-ray, dental, ambulance, hospital, nursing, etc.) and lost wages (if you are an income producer) that you incur, up to the limit of insurance on the policy. This means that even if you cause an accident with another vehicle, your own auto policy, under the PIP coverage, will provide you with coverage for the medical expenses and lost wages that you incur, up to the limit of insurance. The minimum limit of PIP coverage is $2,500, but it does not cost that much more in premiums to increase this limit. Accordingly, to make sure that you are protected, you should increase the PIP coverage on your auto policy. However, even though PIP benefits are considered no-fault, there is no coverage for a person who intentionally caused the accident or a person who sustains injury while committing a felony or fleeing from law enforcement. Other than those scenarios, PIP will provide coverage and benefits for you, even if you are the cause of the accident.
Further, if you are injured in an accident that is caused by another, you can recover your PIP benefits, in addition to the recovery from the party that caused the incident. The at-fault driver does not get an offset or a credit for the PIP benefits you received, and your auto carrier does not get an offset or a credit for the recovery you received from the at-fault driver. You get your PIP money and the money from the at-fault driver. My clients are often astonished to learn that they will get money from both their own insurance carrier and from the at-fault driver’s liability insurance carrier. However, more often than not, I see the situation where my client only has the minimum level of PIP coverage. The sentiment is always the same; I wish I had more PIP coverage.
With regards to subrogation rights, an insurance company that pays PIP benefits does not have a right of subrogation or claim against any other person or insurer to recover any benefits by reason of the alleged fault of the other person in causing the accident. This means that you do not have to pay PIP benefits back to the insurer, in the event that you are later able to recover from the at-fault driver following an auto accident. This is yet another benefit of this type of coverage. Additionally, PIP benefits are recoverable by the named insured (policy holder), members of the insured’s household, and any authorized operator or passenger of the named insured’s motor vehicle, including guests. PIP can protect your entire family and your guests.
Given all the advantages of PIP coverage, I recommend you contact your insurance agent and increase the limits of this coverage. Remember, this coverage is part of, or should be part of, your own automobile liability policy. Given that Texas has such a high level of uninsured drivers, increasing your PIP coverage may save the day in the event you are a family member is injured on our Texas streets.