One spring night, a woman was sitting on her porch listening to the baseball game on the radio. It was early in the season and her team still had a chance at a great season. On this particular evening, her ballgame was interrupted by the sound of a racing engine.
She looked to her right and saw a dark colored car traveling at a high rate of speed in the southbound lane on the road that passed in front of her house. She looked to her left and could see a pickup truck in the northbound lane headed up the hill. As the truck crested the hill, the driver of the truck realized the car had crossed the double-yellow center line into his lane.
The truck driver slowed, but had no place else to go and was struck by the car almost head-on. Both vehicles were in the northbound lane and smoking when the police arrived on the scene. The car had flipped onto its side.
The driver and passenger of the car were trapped in the vehicle. Neither young man had been wearing a seatbelt. The driver appeared lifeless and was impaled against the steering wheel. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His passenger was entangled in the car’s mangled interior and the driver was situated on top of him. He could not be reached by emergency personnel until after the driver was cut from the wreckage. Once extricated, the passenger was airlifted to the hospital, where he later died from his injuries.
The police report indicated that the speedometer of the car was frozen at 65 mph. Based on additional data collected and calculations performed, it was determined that the car was travelling at a minimum speed of 96 mph at the point that it crossed the center line and began to skid. The pickup truck left no pre-impact tire marks and appeared to have been at or near a stop on the shoulder of the roadway.
The driver of the pickup truck was an employee of a rental store. The truck he was driving belonged to his employer and he had the truck available to him for both business and personal use on a regular basis. After the accident, he was able to get out of the pickup by himself, but was unable to walk because a bone was exposed in his right ankle. He was transported by ambulance to the hospital with severe injuries.
The rental store employee was hospitalized for nine days following the accident. He sustained broken bones in his feet, legs, ribs and left arm. He had contusions on his lungs and cuts and scratches over his entire body. He underwent two surgeries, spent weeks confined to a wheelchair, and had casts on both feet and his left hand. He endured extensive physical therapy.
The rental store employee was not at fault for the accident. In fact, he did everything possible to avoid it. The speed of the car was the primary factor in the accident. The insurance carrier for the car accepted liability. However, the other carrier had policy limits for injuries of $25,000 per person. This did not even come close to covering the medical expenses of the rental store employee.
He was on his way home, so worker’s compensation was not available because the man was not working at the time of the accident. The rental store employee turned to the supplementary underinsured motorist coverage in his employer’s auto insurance policy to cover his expenses. This coverage only applies when the other (at fault) driver has liability coverage at the time of the accident, but the limits are insufficient to pay for all damages. The difference would be paid under the named insured’s — the rental store — policy up to policy limits.
This rental store owner had decided to carry underinsured motorist coverage at an amount higher than he was required to by law. If he had not, his employee might not have had the money to cover his medical expenses.
Like a baseball team, a rental store owner is hopeful that his team — his store, customers and employees — all work together for the best possible result. Arm yourself with the proper insurance coverage and protect what is important to you.
Mary Ann Gormly, CERP, is risk management coordinator for ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580
or visit ARAinsure.com.