A Ligonier police officer killed while on patrol duty by a van travelling in the wrong direction. The officer, Lieutenant Eric Eslary, was a 17 year veteran of the force, husband and father of six children. This tragedy may be even more tragic if Lt. Eslary’s family is not able to recover the Underinsured Motorist benefits from his personal auto insurance policy.
Underinsured Motorist coverage provides benefits to individuals and families who are injured or killed by a negligent driver who does not have sufficient liability coverage to compensate the victims. Also known as “UIM”, the coverage is optional in Pennsylvania. If a policy provides for UIM coverage, the law in Pennsylvania requires that the victim first recover any UIM benefits from the vehicle they are riding in at the time of the crash. Next, the victim may recover from any policy in which they are an insured. In most cases, this would be the victim’s personal auto insurance policy.
Thus, in Lt. Eslary’s case, if the driver of the van does not have enough liability coverage to compensate his family, his family would be able to collect UIM benefits from the Ligonier Police patrol car he was driving at the time of the crash. However, in many cases, the city or municipality does not elect to have UIM coverage on their vehicles. In most cases where there is UIM coverage on the policy vehicle, the limits are minimal ($15,000) or very low (under $50,000). Thus, under Pennsylvania law, if the next policy that Lt. Eslary’s family would seek UIM benefits would be his personal auto insurance policy.
Unfortunately, most auto insurance policies in Pennsylvania have an exclusion that prevents victims from recovering the UIM benefits they paid for if injured or killed while using a vehicle available for their regular use, but not insured under their personal auto insurance policy. Thus, in Lt. Eslary’s case, if his personal auto policy has the “regular use” exclusion, his family could not recover the UIM benefits they paid for because he was killed while operating a vehicle available for his regular use, but not insured under his personal policy. This exclusion has been enforced by Pennsylvania courts, including the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, to prevent police officers and other first responders from recovering UIM benefits they paid for and expected to protect them. Sadly, there are police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and anyone with a work vehicle who are injured or killed every day in Pennsylvania that are never able to recover UIM benefits from their personal auto policies.
However, there are some insurance companies that write auto insurance policies in Pennsylvania that do not have the “regular use” exclusion in their policies. If you or a family member are a police officer or drive a work vehicle, you should look at your personal auto insurance policy to see if you have a policy with the regular use exclusion. If you do, you should find an insurance company that does not have the regular use exclusion. If you need help finding the regular use exclusion in your policy or finding an insurance company that does not have the regular use exclusion, please contact us and we will help.