I recently had the incredibly good fortune of getting married to my wonderful wife, Kat. In addition to the name, address, and health insurance changes that came with this life event, I volunteered to get our auto and homeowners insurance policies and coverages melded and up to date. Since I focus my practice on representing injury victims, as we were updating our policies, I kept an eye out for a number of insurance policy issues that I recently came across in my practice.
Arbitration for Underinsured (UIM) and Uninsured (UM) Motorist Coverage
One of the greatest, if not the greatest, protection that an injury victim has is his or her Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. If the negligent party’s insurer is unwilling to provide fair and reasonable compensation for the injuries and damage sustained, you can seek recourse from a jury of your peers. This is also true if the negligent driver does not have sufficient, or any, insurance and you need to make an underinsured or uninsured motorist claim with your own insurance company.
However, the Seventh Amendment protection is disappearing in some automobile insurance policies that include provisions that require arbitration for uninsured and underinsured motorist claims. As a result, if the injured person and his or her insurance company cannot agree as to whether UIM/UM coverage applies or the amount of damages, rather than a jury of your peers deciding the issues, a group of arbitrators (usually three) decides the issues.
It is easy to pass this issue off as an “only lawyers read the insurance policy” type of issue. However, depending on the issues and type of injuries, having your claim limited to a three-person arbitration body with limited discovery, limited evidence and limited appellate review could have a huge influence on your injury claim. Unfortunately, by the time a lawyer reads your insurance policy, it is often after the injuries have occurred, and it is too late for the injured party to make an informed choice.
Breed Restrictions and Limits for Dog Bites
In Wisconsin, there is statutory liability for an owner, harborer and keeper of a dog when a dog bite occurs. Normally, insurance coverage for this type of incident falls under a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. Just as all UIM/UM policy provisions are not written the same, not all policy provisions involving dog bite liability are the same. There are a number of insurance policies in Wisconsin that limit, or completely exclude, coverage for certain dog breeds.
Some insurance policies exclude coverage for bodily injury or property damage caused by what the policy defines as prohibited or excluded breeds of dogs, including mixed breeds. If not excluded, some policies limit the amount of insurance to an amount that is much lower (e.g. $25,000 or $10,000) than the policy’s normal liability limit. As such, if you or your family owns a dog, make sure to check your policy for any dog breed restrictions or limitations of coverage. Fortunately, my new married life includes only a teacup Chihuahua, which I have yet to see listed as an excluded breed.