A recent serious motor vehicle accident involving Staten Island residents Wilma and Victor Rao brings into stark focus the importance of “SUM” insurance coverage when an accident victim suffers injuries through the negligence of a driver either with no insurance coverage (due to an insurance lapse or never having insurance to begin with) or insufficient coverage to compensate for the injuries and financial losses suffered by the victims. “Sum” means supplemental underinsurance (for accidents with drivers that have inadequate insurance), or uninsurance (for accidents with drivers that have no insurance). The Raos were in an accident with 29 year old ex-convict Christopher Chin, who went through a stop sign, struck the Chin vehicle, and had no insurance on his vehicle.
Victor Rao, 51, who was in a medically induced coma for one month, suffered loss of vision in his left eye, brain injuries, a broken hip, several fractures in his right arm, and an inability to use his right hand. Victor’s wife, Wilma Rao, 56, suffered a fractured pelvis and broken collarbone. Despite these severe injuries, Ms. Rao is valiantly attempting to run both her antique store and Mr. Rao’s freight forwarding business while all also assisting in her husband’s rehabilitation and taking care of their two children.
The huge problem for the Raos, as it is for so many car accident victims in the State of New York, is that while they had $100,000 in bodily liability insurance coverage, which would protect other drivers if they were negligent in an accident and injured someone else, they had only $25,000 in SUM uninsured/underinsurance coverage. Thus, since Mr. Chin, who is also being charged with two counts of felony second degree vehicular assault, has no assets and no insurance, the Raos are each limited to $25,000 through their SUM uninsurance coverage for all of their physical and financial injuries. This could have been so easily averted if they had simply been advised by their insurance broker, or if they went through the insurance company directly, a claim representative, that they should consider raising their underinsurance/uninsurance coverage to at least the same amount as their bodily injury coverage of $100,000 per person.
Whenever a car accident victim walks into our office, one of the first topics we discuss is the issue of underinsurance coverage. Because we usually do not yet know if the defendant has sufficient insurance coverage (or as in the Rao case, any coverage at all), it is vital to find out what SUM coverage our client has to protect themselves. Further, there is a specific requirement with SUM claims that they be filed promptly after an accident has occurred, so time is of the essence.
One other very important detail to remember about SUM coverage is that it only applies if the SUM coverage of the injured person is more than the bodily liability coverage of the other car involved in the accident. For example, if the bodily liability coverage of the negligent other driver is $100,000, and so is the SUM coverage of our client, than the SUM coverage does not apply, and it would also not apply if the other driver’s coverage was more than our clients’ SUM coverage. However, if the SUM coverage is more than the bodily injury coverage of the wrongdoer’s policy, then the bodily injury policy coverage is subtracted from the SUM coverage and what is remaining would be available to our injured clients. In this latter example, if the SUM coverage is $250,000 and the bodily injury liability of the other driver is $100,000, then there would be $150,000 available SUM coverage—i.e. $250,000 SUM Coverage--$100,000 Bodily Liability Coverage from wrongdoer= $150,000 remaining available SUM coverage.
“SUM” coverage is a vital yet frequently not purchased element of automobile insurance which protects a driver or passenger from being injured in an accident with either an uninsured driver or driver with inadequate insurance to compensate the injured car occupant (s) for their pain and suffering, medical bills and lost earnings sustained as a result of the other driver’s negligence.
The irony of SUM coverage is that is relatively inexpensive, (in the range of $150.00 per year to provide good coverage) and insurance brokers often neglect to mention to the clients the benefits of this coverage in an effort to reduce possible claims against the insurance companies that they are beholden to.
As a long standing member of the New York State Trial Lawyer’s Association, I have lobbied along with many other members of NYSTLA for at least the last few years to change the rules about SUM coverage from what is known as an “opt-in” provision (meaning that you have to specifically request the coverage to obtain it) to an “opt –out” provision, in which the person applying for car insurance would have the same SUM coverage protecting them as they would bodily injury coverage protecting other drivers and car occupants UNLESS they specifically stated that they did not want this coverage. We were successful in persuading the NY State Legislature to pass a bill with the new “opt-out “ provision for SUM coverage, which is presently sitting on Governor’ Cuomo’s desk and facing strenuous opposition from the big car insurance companies such as Allstate (“You’re In Good Hands”), State Farm (“The Good Hands People)”, Progressive, Geico and others.
I would strongly urge anyone who has read and taken an interest in this article to contact the Governor Cuomo’s office today to urge him to sign the SUM Bill, which is also identified as Senate Bill S7887 (Seward) and Assembly A10784 (Morelle).