Christopher Smith

<!–[if supportFields]> SEQ CHAPTER h r 1<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>Imagine for a moment that you are a foreign resident who recently moved to Atlanta to manage your company’s new U. S. subsidiary.  You have had much work to do.  You have met with your immigration lawyer to obtain the appropriate visa.  Your corporate attorney has set up your U. S. subsidiary and assisted you in negotiating the lease on your office space.  Your accountants have explained to you the intricacies of transfer pricing.  You have purchased equipment for your new office and hired staff.  You have negotiated the lease on your new apartment and purchased furniture.   Now that this is done, you purchase a new automobile and immediately go to work implementing your marketing and sales plan.  Then the unexpected happens.  You are rear-ended in stop-and-go traffic on the interstate and sustain severe personal injuries.

Unfortunately the above referenced scenario is far too real.  Eventually a person involved in such an ordeal will contact an attorney to discuss their legal rights.  The attorney will want to know if the victim has uninsured/under-insured motorist protection and medical payments coverage.  The attorney will also want to know the limits of these coverages.  Oftentimes the victim will respond that they think they have these types of insurance as they purchased “full coverage” insurance.  What they don’t know about our auto insurance laws can prove costly.  “Full coverage” insurance is a misnomer.  This merely means that the person has purchased liability insurance and collision insurance.  The law in Georgia only requires that a person purchase a minimum liability insurance policy of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident with property damage coverage in the amount of at least $25,000.  There is no requirement that a person purchase uninsured/under-insured motorist protection. 

Using the above referenced example, let’s say that the victim was hit by someone possessing a $25,000 liability insurance policy.  What would the victim do if they had $100,000 in medical bills?  If they did not possess medical payments coverage, then the only source they could turn to would be their health insurance policy.  This may or may not cover all the medical bills incurred.  Neither medical payments coverage nor health insurance coverage will compensate this person for their lost wages, decreased future earnings or their pain and suffering.  What if the victim in our example is right-handed and lost their hand in the accident?  What can they do?  Sadly, the answer is not much unless they happened to be hit by a person with large personal assets.  This is seldom the case.  More often than not, those causing catastrophic injuries are what we call “judgment proof” defendants.  Many of them have negligible assets and if vigorously pursued in many cases can simply file bankruptcy against such a claim.  If the victim was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the accident, they could make a claim against their employer’s Workers Compensation policy, if they possess one.  But even if this avenue were available, the amount received from Workers Compensation payments is very limited compared to the actual damages incurred by a professional.

It is estimated that at least 13 percent of drivers on the road have no insurance whatsoever and are driving illegally.  It has been opined by some in the industry that due to the current economic situation, this number may be approaching 20 percent.  Uninsured/under-insured motorist protection is an elective coverage that can compensate the insured in such a scenario.  If our victim in the above example had, say, $500,000 in uninsured motorist protection, and the defendant that hit them only had $25,000 worth of coverage, then the victim could call upon their uninsured/under-insured motorist protection to compensate them for their medical bills, lost wages, lost future earnings as well as damages for pain and suffering.  The problem is that approximately 90 percent of drivers decline to purchase uninsured/under-insured motorist protection.                                     

The Georgia Department of Transportation maintains a daily traffic count estimate for all of the major thoroughfares in Georgia.  Some traffic count estimates in Atlanta are as high as 285,000 automobiles per day one way.  Using a conservative estimate, this means at least 37,000 uninsured vehicles will pass through that given intersection in a 24-hour time period.  One can also deduce that out of the 1,600 accidents, which result in a fatality each year, at least 208 of the same will involve uninsured drivers.  Georgia is no worse than any other state in this regard and indeed several states have higher levels of uninsured motorists on the road.  A person would be wise to fully understand all insurance coverages available to them prior to getting behind the wheel of their new car.  Failure to do so will result in their playing Russian roulette on our highways.

Christopher N. Smith is an attorney based in Macon who practices personal injury, wrongful death and business law through the state of Georgia. He is a past president of Middle Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and the winner of the 2007 Governor’s International Award for Individual Contribution to the state of Georgia. He is the recipient of the 2008 Danish American Community Leader of the Year Award and also serves as the honorary consul of the Kingdom of Denmark. Mr. Smith may be reached by calling (478) 477-8145 or send an email to