The Crucial Car Insurance Coverage That Every Police Officer In New York Must Have
As we all know, being a police officer anywhere in New York involves a high degree of risk of injury. I know this first hand as my father and uncle proudly served as members of the NYPD for many years.
In New York, police vehicles are self insured by the cities, towns, villages, etc. that own them, they are not insured by private insurance companies like our own cars. As such, they are not covered with the same insurance benefits that private cars must be insured with. For instance, police vehicles are not provided with Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage. Therefore, if a police officer is injured as a driver or passenger of a police car and is injured by another vehicle with no insurance or a small policy, they have no insurance protection for their injuries through the police vehicle. Because of this, I have always advised my many police officer family members, friends, and neighbors to purchase a large amount of Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage for their own/personal vehicles. This is because this coverage is like a shadow that follows you and every family member regardless of where you are or what car you are in when you are injured. With this coverage you can protect yourself from people that injure you and have no insurance or a very small policy. When you have this coverage you are not at the mercy of the person that injures you, as typically the worst drivers have the least insurance.
If a police officer is riding in a police car and has this coverage on their own car and is injured by another vehicle with no insurance or a small policy, the officer will be able to pursue an Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist claim with their own personal car insurance to obtain the additional compensation they deserve. This coverage will also provide protection to the police officer if they are struck by a stolen car, or a car that leaves the scene and is never identified. Moreover, it will provide coverage to the police officer even if they are a pedestrian and are struck and injured by a car.
Since police officers employed by the City of New York, the State of New York, Suffolk County, Nassau County, and every other county, city, town, or village are not covered by the police cars they occupy, they must make sure that they properly insure themselves with their own personal car policy. I would recommend a minimum of $250,000.00 of Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage, and more if possible due to the risk of injury police officers face everyday.
In a recent case, New York's highest court stripped away a police officer's right as a passenger to pursue an Uninsured/Underinsured claim against the personal insurance policy of the police officer who was operating the police car. In the case of State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Fitzgerald, 2015 N.Y. Slip Op. 05626 (July 1, 2015), police officer Fitzgerald was a passenger in a police car that was struck by a drunk driver whose car was insured with a small liability policy which was insufficient to compensate officer Fitzgerald for his serious injuries. As a result, officer Fitzgerald (who apparently did not have sufficient Uninsured/Underinsured coverage on his own car) made an Underinsured Motorist claim against State Farm Insurance Company (who insured the police officer operating the police car), which State Farm denied to pay on.
The Court of Appeals sided with State Farm because they determined that a police vehicle is not considered to be a "motor vehicle" under NY Vehicle & Traffic Law section 388(2). This is crucial because in order for the police officer passenger to be able to pursue an Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist claim with the State Farm policy of the driver police officer, the passenger police officer must occupy the driver's own car, or any other "motor vehicle" being operated by the driver. The Court of Appeals in this decision overruled the lower Appellate Division court which had decided that a police vehicle was a "motor vehicle" as broadly defined under NY Vehicle & Traffic law section125, and had allowed the injured police officer's claim to proceed.
As a result of this harsh decision by New York's top court, police officer Fitzgerald was unable to obtain the compensation he deserved. State Farm walked away without paying a dime, just because officer Fitzgerald was in a police car which the court decided was technically not a
"motor vehicle" under the law. This decision is contrary to common sense, and will be used by insurance companies in New York to deny the legitimate claims of seriously injured police officers for years to come.
The lesson to be learned is to always properly insure yourself, especially if you are a police officer in New York.
If any police officer or their family members have any questions about this insurance coverage, I am always happy to speak to you and to review your car insurance policy to make sure that you have the protection you need.
Keep it safe out there.
Mark T. Freeley, Esq.