In a milestone case for workers injured on the job while operating a motor vehicle, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that automobile insurers must pay Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) benefits to eligible individuals, even if they are receiving workers’ compensation. Heller v. Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities 2011 Pa. LEXIS 2521 (2011).
In addition to the regular insurance we all have, car owners can buy two other kinds of insurance. One is called Underinsured Motorist Benefits (UIM) and the second is called Uninsured Motorist Benefits (UM). UIM benefits come into play when an accident victim is hurt by someone who does not have enough insurance to cover a claim. UM benefits come into play in hit-and-run accidents or where a negligent driver has no insurance at all. By law, all automobile insurance policies must provide UIM and UM coverage unless a car owner signs a paper waiving these benefits.
The Heller case is a perfect example of why Galfand Berger recommends never waiving UIM/UM coverage!
In Heller, an on-duty police officer was hurt in an automobile accident. The injured officer recovered $25,000 from the reckless driver who injured him (the maximum coverage under that driver’s policy). The officer then notified his own insurer and his employer’s carrier of a potential UIM claim. The officer’s medical expenses and part of his lost wages were covered by workers’ compensation benefits.
The employer’s auto insurance carrier denied UIM coverage. The carrier insisted that its policy allowed it to deny coverage to workers who were also eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
The Supreme Court rejected the auto insurer’s exclusion and ordered the insurance company to pay. The Court concluded that employees hurt on the job while operating a vehicle are the individuals most likely to file claims against an employer’s UM/UIM coverage. The Court said that when a negligent driver caused the work-related injury, the employer should not be burdened with the costs of the injury. Instead, those costs must rest with the bad driver or the UM/UIM carrier.
For our clients, this case has a couple important messages. If you are hurt at work while driving a vehicle, collecting workers’ compensation benefits will not stop you from also filing a UM/UIM claim. This case also illustrates that every driver should carry Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist coverage. Remember, Uninsured Motorist coverage protects you and your family if someone is hurt by a careless driver who has no insurance. Underinsured Motorist coverage protects you and your family if a careless driver does not have enough insurance.
To learn more about workers’ compensation, email our firm for our free booklet: “Workers’ Rights to Workers’ Compensation.” And, to learn more about auto insurance, email our firm for a free copy of our booklet: “Auto Insurance: Understanding Your Policy & Rights” at [email protected].
Galfand Berger’s team of auto accident and workers’ compensation lawyers helps our clients through the turmoil and confusion that follow a car accident or on-the-job injury. If you have been hurt and have questions, do not hesitate to call us for a free consultation at 1-800-222-8792 or by email at [email protected].