You may have heard the phrases “you can’t get blood from a turnip” or “you can’t get blood from a stone.” The source of these phrases is murky, but the meaning is not: you can’t do the impossible and expect results.
In terms of our work at Skinner Law Firm, these two phrases are unfortunately used often, and normally when discussing the payment of debts: If there is no money to be collected, you can’t collect any money. In fact, we’ve turned them into a Rule: the “Blood-from-a-Turnip Rule.” Because many wrongdoers don’t have enough money to pay for claims that might cost many thousands – or even millions – of dollars in harm, most claims are usually paid with liability insurance. But sometimes, there’s not enough liability insurance available to cover all of the damage.
For example, in the case of car wrecks, the law in most states requires that all car owners purchase liability insurance. In West Virginia, that limit is $25,000; in Maryland, it is $30,000; in Virginia, for policies effective before January 1 of 2022, it was $25,000, rising to $30,000 for policies effective between January 1 of 2022 through December 31 of 2024, and then rising to $50,000 after that. As you can see, the amounts vary significantly by state.
The law also requires insurance companies to offer “underinsurance” coverage. (As an aside, ask your insurance agent about increasing the amount of underinsurance – called UIM – that you can get, because this is money that will cover YOU in a wreck caused by someone else). In most cases, there is some insurance coverage to pay a claim. But if the wreck was bad, and the liability policy limits of the wrongdoer’s insurance are not enough, and your own underinsurance policy limits are not enough, then where will the money come from?
We search for sources of recovery where we can. Did the driver have an umbrella policy? Was the wrongdoer driving for a ride-sharing company like Uber or Lyft? Were they delivering pizza for a national chain? Were they running an errand for their office? Had they been drinking in a bar? Were their vehicle’s safety systems defective? If the liability insurance of a driver is nowhere near enough to compensate for the harms caused, we look for other potential wrongdoers who contributed to the injuries.
But sometimes, there is no one. Skinner Law Firm has handled two cases recently where “little old ladies” struck motorcyclists and caused life-altering injuries in one case and death in another. The little old ladies had limited insurance. They were not working for a company. They were sober. They had no significant assets. There was no other place to get money. The Blood-from-a-Turnip Rule applied. There was no other source of recovery.
Every once in a while, we have a client who wants to ”go after” the other driver personally. In most cases, this isn’t going to work. Here’s why: If you will not accept the policy limits offered by the wrongdoer’s insurance company, you will have to go to trial and get a judgment against the other driver. Realistically, that will take about a year (and sometimes longer) from when you file the lawsuit, and it will normally cost thousands of dollars in additional expenses to go to trial. Then, when you try to collect the judgment, the other driver can simply file for bankruptcy, and it will all have been for nothing. Or, you can seek to garnish their wages, but you will only be collecting small amounts, most of which you won’t see until all of the attorney’s fees have been paid.
To be sure, there are circumstances in which seeking more than the policy limits is the way to go. For instance, if there is a punitive damages claim that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and there is some hope of future payment from somewhere, like real estate holdings or an expected inheritance. But for most wrecks, the Blood-from-a-Turnip Rule can only be overcome in very limited circumstances.
THE BOTTOM LINE? Purchase as much Underinsured Motorist Coverage as you can afford.
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