Leon Law breaks down how to protect yourself in the event of an injury accident
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
The holiday season is in full swing complete with shoppers shopping and a seasonal influx of motorists with their eager traversing along local streets, roads, and thoroughfares en route to family gatherings, office parties and holiday happy hours.
Car accidents happen frequently in the Phoenix metropolitan area and when they do many affected find themselves in distress — physically, emotionally, and oftentimes financially. The practice of law is nuanced, detailed, and most importantly, in pursuit of justice no matter the legal predicament before any court of law.
Not to put a damper on good holiday tidings, but the Arizona Digital Free Press sat down with Phoenix Attorney Jose M. Leon, principal at Leon Law, to better understand the state of liability in the auto and medical insurance industry of the Grand Canyon State.
“I think more so than in any other time in history we are seeing a problem with being insured correctly,” Mr. Leon said in December 2023 at Hearth ‘61, which is the premier restaurant at Mountain Shadows, found in the heart of the Town of Paradise Valley. “We have the misconception that if we get into an accident the ‘other person’s insurance’ will cover it in full no matter what.”
Mr. Leon argues for those who find themselves entrenched as part of the American middle-class, oftentimes state minimum insurance coverage requirements are not sufficient to cover responsible drivers from those who are not properly insured.
“Sometimes people drive cars without having insurance or sufficient insurance and that leaves most in a difficult financial situation they cannot recover from unless you have your own insurance coverage to help carry the financial burden,” Mr. Leon said of cases he works almost every year. “With high medical costs, we should consider having health insurance to cover our medical bills. The car insurance claim is one of reimbursement and therefore we should protect ourselves financially responsibilities from the medical bills providers by having our own health insurance pay for the visit first.”
For Mr. Leon, the fight for the client always lies with negotiations at the insurance carrier level — automobile or otherwise.
“An attorney like me can then worry about securing the best settlement against the car insurance companies and reimburse the health plan for the amounts that they’re legally required to receive as reimbursement,” he said. “In many instances, this creates a larger amount of money that goes in our client’s pocket.”
The critical nature of a personal financial prospectus
For Mr. Leon, the No. 1 thing all Arizona consumers ought to be doing to protect themselves better against financial ruin in personal injury cases is to ‘right-size’ a car insurance policy based on an up-to-date understanding of his or her financial net worth.
“Reviewing your personal financial situation on a yearly basis is really important because things change — you may win the lottery or become successful,” he said of wealth-generating scenarios many experiences over the course of a lifetime.
“In the state of Arizona, let’s say you become a millionaire, but you kept your car insurance policy the same as before you became a millionaire. The state minimum requirement is only that you protect others from any personal injury up to $25,000 per person, and $50,000 per accident.
If you have that minimum coverage and you cause a person to become a quadriplegic in a motor vehicle accident, which is actually more financially impactful and worth more than having someone die on you, with a 25/50 policy, a lawyer like myself, can go past the contract you have with the insurance company because you were not acting responsible with your own coverage.”
Arizona law requires all drivers to carry a minimum level of liability coverage, which translates to these requirements:
- An Arizona driver most carry a $25,000 bodily injury liability coverage per person.
- An Arizona driver most carry a $50,000 bodily injury liability coverage per accident; and
- An Arizona driver most carry $15,000 in property damage liability coverage per accident.
Mr. Leon explains a personal injury claim — arising out of a car accident — can create incredible financial hardship if not prepared for correctly.
“If you are the at-fault person your insurance company will cap how much they pay on your behalf based on that level you contracted with them for,” he said of your policy coverage upon discovery of the value of a legal claim.
“And, as a lawyer, I will then look and determine if that is enough or not. The large majority of claims that come before any court are typically ‘right sized’ because let’s say I have an excess judgment and its $150,000 but your net worth would never allow you to have the earning potential to pay my client, we will have to decide whether we accept the insurance policy limit or go for an excess judgment.”
But Mr. Leon points out the state of personal medical coverage and the nuances of auto policy claims can leave some consumers liable to extreme exposure.
“As the treatment develops you understand what the value of the case is,” he said following the time when all medical care has been rendered.
“If I am involved in an accident in Arizona and I decide to not buy any additional coverage above and beyond what the state requirement is, I am putting myself into a bit of a predicament. We all know medical treatment costs have been increasing and in some cases are so high they are hard to pay directly especially when we are talking about cash payments — This is the middle class, this is the ‘everybody.’”
Mr. Leon offered solutions for middle class exposure including medical payment coverage that helps protect Arizona motorists when it comes to surprise medical bills that exceed qualified procedures or care.
“If you don’t have what we commonly refer to as full coverage [underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage] then you won’t be able to access the full potential of insurance company protections that is necessary in today’s environment,” he said.
“I always recommend that you have the equivalent coverages that one would buy to protect others to protect yourself. That means you have the same coverage available to you that you purchase to protect other from something you do if you get in an accident. When talking to your insurance agent you purchase coverages to protect your net worth. Protect yourself from others that may not have enough or any coverage because uninsured drivers still drive vehicles.”
Mr. Leon explains that while state requirements don’t always protect the consumer at the absolute best rate possible, there are steps all motorists can take to protect themselves through a thoughtful approach to legal representation and appropriate insurance coverage.
“You only get one shot at getting your money from them [insurance companies]. So every step we take from the moment we start treatment will effect our bottom line and if we don’t have the right advice on how to protect ourselves financially during treatment and during negotiations we can find ourselves with a reduced amount of money in our pocket,” he said. “That’s why it is so important to understand your own health insurance coverage in the event you are injured in a car accident.”