Snowbirds should call auto insurer before travelling south

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By Kirsten McMahon, Managing Editor

As Canadian snowbirds prepare to flock south of the border for sunshine and relaxation, Easy Legal Finance Inc. president and CEO Larry Herscu encourages travellers to cover all of their bases.

“When people travel, they may think about medical emergencies and getting adequate health insurance, but they don’t necessarily turn their minds to other types of coverage. People typically don’t foresee something other than a medical situation happening such as a motor vehicle accident.”

Snowbirdadvisor.ca lists Florida, California and Arizona and some of the most popular and well-known destinations for those looking to escape the harsh Canadian winter. Florida, in particular, has large, established snowbird communities.

Herscu notes that serious injury thresholds — that is, your ability to sue for a certain amount — tend to be lower in the U.S. and differ between states. In some jurisdictions, if you are involved in an accident with multiple people in one car, the threshold is subdivided.

“The conundrum is how do Canadians protect themselves?” he says.

Most auto insurance policies have an optional auto insurance coverage called the OPCF44, also known as Family Protection Coverage, which is a safeguard to your insurance if you’re hurt in a no-fault situation. He says, because of the low thresholds in the United States, which may not even cover a doctor’s visit or short-term therapy, Canadians have the ability to go back to their insurance company to cover the differential.

Easy Legal offers financial support to those who have been hurt in an accident to help them pay bills while their lawyer fights for a fair settlement.

“In Ontario, we know that everyone has to have insurance coverage when you drive a car. It’s the law. The minimum coverage varies by province, but in Ontario, the minimum coverage for third-party liability is $200,000,” Herscu says.

“However, many people will have $500,000 to $2 million in third-party liability coverage. What most Canadians don’t know is that the minimum insurance required in Florida, for example, is only $10,000 in personal injury protection.”

The magnitude of the difference between the two minimums is staggering, he says.

“When you only have $10,000 of personal property insurance and $10,000 property damage insurance, getting involved in a motor vehicle accident is a disaster,” Herscu says. “It doesn’t shield you if you seriously injure someone else. It doesn’t protect you from a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against you.

Herscu advises snowbirds to have a conversation with their insurance provider ahead of time.

“Understand what you’re covered for while you’re away,” he says. “It’s critical to know before you go. Ask what you’re covered for and what’s optional. You may want to increase your auto insurance limits and purchase optional accident benefits in order to protect yourself. Ask what happens if you exceed that $10,000 coverage and what that process looks like.

“Be prepared, know what you are covered for and have the facts so you can enjoy your vacation in the sun,” he adds.

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