A Peace Officer, working traffic enforcement for a local agency, has pulled over a driver on the side of a freeway for a routine traffic stop. He follows procedure and activates his lights. He exits his vehicle and is standing in the shoulder, well off the freeway. An irresponsible and careless driver inattentively hits the officer. The officer is rushed to the local emergency room, and undergoes surgery after fracturing multiple body parts and sustaining internal injuries. Despite over nine months of recovery, including dozens of medical visits and excruciating physical therapy sessions, the officer in unable to get back into physical condition to resume his duties and his doctor tells him he must retire. He is only 32 years old! The good news for the officer is that the Workers’ Compensation System will cover his medical expenses and some of his past wage loss. The bad news is that the driver who hit him has only the state required minimum limits of $15,000 in coverage, no other assets, and is judgment proof.

The officer’s medical bills total $50,000 and he is permanently disabled so that he can not return to work as a Peace Officer. Before the incident, he earned nearly $100,000 per year with benefits, enough to support his wife and three children. Now, he will be lucky to earn half that. He consults with an attorney to file a lawsuit against the careless driver, but is told that unless he has uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage with his own insurance company with significant limits, he will get only what the Workers’ Compensation System provides, which is relatively minimal.

He goes home and checks his insurance paperwork and finds out he has only $50,000 in UM/UIM limits. He is seemingly out of luck, since California law allows a credit or offset for whatever the driver who caused the accident has in coverage ($15,000) and what the Workers’ Compensation Carrier pays out on his claim (in this case over $100,000). Since those offsets are higher than his UM/UIM limits, he gets nothing.

This story is based on a compilation of cases we have handled at Jones, Clifford, and Johnson & Johnson. All too often, our clients are not adequately insured. The most important insurance one can have is insurance to protect oneself from careless and underinsured drivers. If the above driver had carried significant UM/UIM coverage, for example $1,000,000, the officer’s livelihood, and his family’s financial security, would have been much more adequately protected.

We strongly recommend you look at your insurance declarations sheet to see what coverage you have. You will probably find that you do not have very much coverage. Call your agent, and boost it to at least $1,000,000. You are insuring yourself and your family, your most important assets.