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Legally Speaking

Facts you need to know about auto insurance

02/01/2008 - You are driving down the street, and through no fault of your own, you get hit by another vehicle. You have been in an accident. In the days and weeks that follow you come to realize that you may be out of a vehicle, you have medical bills, and you have time away from work and this is all going to cost money. How are you going to cope with it? One of the most complex parts is understanding that there are many types of insurance, and each type works differently. I'll walk you through the 11 facts you need to know about auto insurance. This month, the first three:

1) It just does not seem fair.

You did not cause the accident, yet you may already be receiving bills from the doctors, the hospital, the tow truck company, the auto repair shop, etc. One of the cruel realities is that even though you did not cause the accident, you are responsible for the medical care you receive, the vehicle repairs, and all the other related expenses. Knowing the various types of insurance and how they work will help.

2) What about your vehicle?

Usually within a short time after the accident, the insurance company for the person who caused the accident contacts you. They will want to work out the issues around repair and/or replacement of your vehicle. This involves negotiation. You will need to stand strong in negotiating the value of your vehicle. The way you do this is by getting estimates, Blue Book values, bank values, and written values from auto dealers which establish the value of your vehicle.

3) Is there liability insurance and how much?

The person who caused the accident is required by law to carry liability insurance, but you will not see any of it until you settle your case. Wyoming law requires that every driver of a motor vehicle carries at least $25,000 in liability insurance. Liability insurance is the type of insurance which kicks in when someone causes an accident and unintentionally hurts another person. In other words, his insurance company is to pay you for his negligence. As explained below, liability insurance is different from insurance that pays your medical bills.

Consumers can buy various amounts of liability insurance. While the minimum is $25,000, it is not uncommon for people to carry upwards of ten times that amount. Determining the amount of insurance coverage can be the Holy Grail of auto accident negotiations. It is extremely uncommon and outright rare for the other driver's insurance company to tell you how much coverage he or she carried.

Normally the insurance company plays this very close to its vest and will refuse to disclose this amount. When you ask, the agent will tell you that you do not need to know how much, but in his or her opinion there is enough to cover you. Often it takes a lawyer, and ultimately a lawsuit, to discover this information. This information can be important because it gives you an idea of what you have to work with.

Every case is different with specific circumstances that should be addressed individually. Should you have a legal question, speak to an attorney who is qualified to answer your specific question.

R. Michael Shickich has a regional injury law practice.

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