And will you be protected in the event of an accident?
Cars have gone through plenty of changes in the last decade. But just as significant as the changes to vehicles themselves is the way they interact with people and society as a whole. In particular, we may be seeing the end of car ownership as we know it.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on potentially huge changes to the model of car ownership that we've seen remain more or less unchanged for the last century. The rise of ride-sharing services and autonomous vehicles may mean that fewer people will need to own their own cars. Instead, people may be able to purchase subscriptions to get the vehicles they need "on demand" -a small passenger car to get to work one day, a minivan to take the kids to the park the next.
The way we look at car insurance and compensation may change completely
That also means the way we look at insurance and liability would change dramatically. Instead of thousands of individual motorists paying for individual insurance policies for the cars they own, in a decade, most people may be depending on fleets of cars owned and insured by a dealer or manufacturer. And the implications of such a system for people injured in car accidents are significant as well.
Proponents of autonomous vehicles believe that taking out human motorists will reduce the prevalence of auto accidents, and we certainly hope that's true. Most accidents today are caused by human error, and it's entirely possible that a self-driving vehicle would be able to avoid many of those accidents. But no technology is perfect, and while accidents may well become less common if and when self-driving vehicles become the norm, they will never be eliminated entirely.
Higher potential policy limits have huge implications for accident victims
For people injured in accidents, this new economy could result in greater opportunities for justice. One issue we often see in car accident cases today is that many motorists don't have enough liability coverage to actually pay for the full cost of the accident. In Maine, for example, the minimum liability coverage for an individual motorist is $50,000 for bodily injury or death per person per accident. Motorists are also required to carry uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage with the same minimum limit. Many accidents can cause damages in excess of those limits.
For example, if you're hit by someone with the minimum coverage and have damages in excess of $200,000, and if that person does not have significant assets to recover, then you may have to settle for $100,000: $50,000 from the at-fault driver, $50,000 from your own underinsured motorist coverage, and that's it. You'd recover less than half of what you've lost, because there simply isn't any other available coverage. In too many cases, we've had to tell families in scenarios like this one, families who have lost much, that there is nothing else we can do.
In the new economy described in the Journal article, most vehicles would be owned by businesses and manufacturers with significantly greater assets and higher policy limits. That means it is much more likely that people who sustain serious injuries in accidents would have the opportunity to actually recover full value and be made whole again. Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, which today is absolutely essential, may become unnecessary.
However, it also means that car accidents would become even higher-stakes cases, and the insurance companies would have even greater incentives to fight to reduce or deny claims. While the face of insurance and liability may be changing, the need for victims to retain strong legal representation will be as real as ever.
At our law firm, our attorneys are experts in uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. We take great pride in being leading advocates for injured and disabled Mainers and will be following the developing technology and changing laws closely. In over 40 years, we've helped more than 25,000 Mainers get the justice they deserve and look forward to educating and representing our clients as the modern world continues to progress.