2011-11-25 / Columnists

Sullivan’s Court

Commentary By Keith Sullivan Attorney At Law

Keith Sullivan is a partner with Sullivan & Galleshaw, LLP, an adjunct law professor at Pace University School of Law and Brooklyn Law Schoo,l and a lecturer for the NYS bar exam. He can be seen frequently providing legal analysis on various national and local networks such as FOX News, CNN, HLN, NBC and MSNBC. His column will run monthly in The Wave. You can email your questions to Sullivan at editor@rockawave.com.

Q. My wife was recently in a car accident. The other driver caused the accident, but he has no insurance. How can my wife be compensated for her injuries? - Jon R.

A. Dear JR, I am sorry for your wife’s misfortune. Hopefully she will be fully recovered very soon. Fortunately for her, under your own car insurance policy there is a little know clause that will protect her. It is called “UM/SUM,” an acronym for ‘Uninsured Motorist/Supplemental Underinsured Motorist’ insurance coverage.

This is a pro-consumer insurance clause and a very important part of your car insurance coverage. This coverage applies when you or someone residing in your house is injured in a car accident that is caused in whole – or in part – through the fault of another car that has insufficient insurance coverage or no coverage at all.

When purchasing car insurance most brokers and consumers focus on the liability clause which protects strangers who may be injured by the negligent operation of your car. The law mandates that “UM/SUM” coverage must be maintained.

However, since many insurance companies make a nominal profit from this coverage, they often leave it at a minimum level and never offer the option of an increase to the consumer. Even if you have $100,000 or $300,000 in liability coverage, it might not mean that you have this much available for you under the “UM/SUM” clause.

Since this clause is the only part of your policy that protects you and your loved ones, it is a good idea to make sure that you are fully covered and increase the “UM/ SUM” limits of your policy to equal the amount of liability insurance you purchase to protect others.

By doing so, if another driver causes a car accident and he or she is uninsured or has very little insurance, there is still coverage for you and your household residents who may have been injured in the accident, up to the amount of the “UM/SUM” coverage you purchase.

The NYS Courts have even ruled that a child who lives away at college is still considered a resident of the house and can also be protected under this clause.

Another benefit to collecting directly under your “UM/SUM” clause is that to do so you simply request an arbitration hearing with the insurance company as opposed to filing a lawsuit against the other driver.

A lawsuit can drag on for about three years, whereas the arbitration hearing can be resolved in less than one year.

Q.Iowna2familyhomeand spend most of the winter in Florida. My tenant usually shovels the snow while I am away. This year he told me he will be travelling for much of the winter and likely will not be around. I am concerned about any liability I may have if no one shovels the snow off the sidewalk. After all, it is the City’s sidewalk and not mine. DO I have reason for concern? - Tom O.

A. Tom, while you are enjoying the Florida rays, be sure someone has a shovel ready for your sidewalk! The NYC Code requires that snow on a sidewalk be removed by the adjoining landowner within 4 hours after the snowfall stops. If the snow stops between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., you have until the morning to start the removal. The code also provides that if the snow has turned to ice and needs time to thaw, you may place ash, sand, sawdust or salt down until it melts enough where removal is capable.

Failing to do so could result in fines between $100 and $350.

Additionally, if someone gets hurt on your property from your failure to remove the snow, you can be sued. This wasn’t always the case though. In 2003, thanks to “Tort Reform,” NYC was able to shift the responsibility of cleaning and maintaining sidewalks from themselves to the adjoining landowners.

The law imposes upon the owners of property abutting the sidewalk the affirmative duty to maintain the sidewalk – including removal of snow and ice – and makes the owner liable for injuries arising out of its breach of this duty.

Snow removal is important to keep slip and fall accidents from happening and ultimately, avoiding others from getting injured on your property.

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