When a person injures you as a result of their careless or inattentive conduct, the law makes them responsible for any harm directly caused onto you since all people have a duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid causing injury to others. At the outset of the representation, your personal injury attorney will be working on building and proving a strong case to hold the careless person accountable for their negligence. An equally important aim of your attorney should be obtaining the maximum compensation for the injuries you have suffered.
What are the available sources your attorney can pursue to obtain compensation for you? It depends partly on the financial net worth and assets of the person that injured you, who in a legal case is referred to as the “defendant.” The defendant is responsible in full for all damages they caused to you suffer, including medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, property damages, and any other losses. Their insurance company, however, is only responsible up to the applicable “policy limit.” Unless the person or persons who injured you have significant assets that can be used for collection, if you obtain a judgment against them they will simply file a bankruptcy on the judgment. In that case, their insurance policy is still responsible, up to the “policy limit.” For example, if a 22-year-old college student working a part-time job earning $5,000.00 per year rear-ends you, it is unlikely that you will recover more than their policy limit. If you sue the college student and get a judgment, he or she will file a bankruptcy on the judgment.
A policy limit is the maximum amount that an insurer is contractually bound to pay for a single accident or incident. There are different types of policy limits, including property damage, bodily injury, and other types. The main type of limit you will be concerned with in a personal injury case is the bodily injury limit, which provides coverage for medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages that your lawyer can prove were caused by the defendant. To illustrate, in California all drivers are required to carry automobile insurance that has bodily injury limits of at least $15,000.00 per person and $30,000.00 per accident. Many drivers carry higher coverages. If a vehicle is financed, the lender typically will require higher limits, sometimes as high as $100,000.00 per person and $300,000.00 per accident.
Your inquiry does not stop at the main insurance policy, for example, the driver’s policy in an auto accident case. The owner of the vehicle may also have a separate policy that provides high coverage (higher policy limits) for the accident. Your own auto insurance may have uninsured (or under-insured) motorist coverage that protects you, and if the owner of the vehicle you were driving is somebody else they may have similar coverage that protects both of you. In addition, the defendant driver, or owner of the car, may have one or more umbrella policies that your lawyer can pursue as an additional available source of compensation for you. The same is true in other types of cases, such as dog bites, slip and falls, and other matters.
Of course, in order to collect a policy limit, or any amount at all under a policy, you still have to build a strong case and prove that the other person was negligent. After all, the defendant’s insurance company did not harm you; it merely sold a policy to the defendant. Once you are able to prove the defendant’s negligence, and show you are legally entitled to a judgment against him or her, then the defendant’s insurance company will have to pay you the total amount of damages your attorney proves that you have suffered, up to the policy limit for which the insurer is effectively on the hook.
To summarize, in any personal injury case, such as a car accident, motorcycle accident, dog bite attack, or a slip and fall in a retail store or business, in addition to pleading and proving your case, your personal injury lawyer will be able to effectively explore and completely exhaust all possible sources of insurance coverage. A good attorney will leave no stone unturned in the search for available policies. You never know what policies may exist that can be accessed by your attorney to compensate you and your family.