Here's how to make sure you don't let the sun interfere with safe fleet driving.
One typical April afternoon at our company, a senior chauffeur came to pick up his car and jobs. At 1 p.m., he was early for his 3 p.m. airport pick-up but he liked to take his time getting to the airport. With Philadelphia traffic, he believes, it’s better to be safe and wait at the airport than to make a client wait because you are late.
At 1:30 p.m., the dispatch phone line rang. Taking the overflow, I picked up the line to lend a hand. The chauffeur who had just left minutes before was on the line. “Hey, I just got whacked and good.”
Taken aback, I asked if he was O.K. to which he replied, “I think you better send Phil (my husband) up here.” The accident was at the end of our street. He had waited at the traffic light to make a right. When he turned right, he was broadsided by a pickup truck traveling up the right-hand shoulder. We believe the driver had fallen asleep. The car was totaled. Our chauffeur suffered a broken leg and torn rotator cuff. The driver of the pickup truck appeared uninjured.
My husband took pictures at the scene with the disposable camera that the insurance company provided while I jumped in another car and covered the chauffeur’s first job at the airport. My husband stayed at the scene and made sure our chauffeur was taken to the hospital. He returned to the office and immediately called our insurance agent.
Two Months Later
After two months, we had not received a penny from our insurance company. Our business had gotten much busier and we were down both a car and a chauffeur. At our last renewal, we switched insurance companies from the one we had been using for many years.
Key things we learned:
Your insurance agent is not your insurance company. Just because you have dealt with the same agent forever does not mean that the underwriter is the same. Your insurance agent will shop you around to get you the best rates. Make sure that the companies they shop you to have a proven track record in this industry. You may get what you pay for with a company that does not understand that a livery vehicle differs from a consumer’s automobile.
Know what you are paying for. If the price difference is too good to be true, check it out. This can be difficult because typically you get your policy written on the last day before it is due for renewal. This doesn’t leave you a lot of time to scrutinize the policy. Make sure that the sheet written up by your agent matches what it is stated in the policy.
Know who is making the decisions for you. Within your insurance writer’s realm, there are other people who work for them who do the adjusting. These folks do not necessarily work for the underwriter themselves but are contracted, and again, may not know anything about the livery and for-hire industries. They hire appraisers to evaluate the vehicle. The appraiser also may not know anything about the for-hire industry. Understand that although they may handle adjustments daily, it may be rare for them to encounter a livery vehicle.
Read your policy! If I took a survey of how many people actually read their policies the first time they set up their insurance, I would wager that it is only about half of those reading this article. At renewal, the number probably will cut down even further. We are all busy in our businesses. When we sat with our agent to write our policy, we checked off the box for replacement value but the declaration page was in conflict with the small print of the policy. The policy writer said, stated value or book value, with the lesser of the two being paid. The two being in conflict causes problems for us. Do you know which you have? The demise of the Lincoln Town Car made replacing our vehicle with a comparable vehicle very difficult. The price of used Lincoln Town Cars has gone up substantially (that is if you can even find them). If your policy is a book value policy, it won’t take into account the extras you may have on your car such as chrome wheels.
Allow yourself time. Dealing with an accident takes a lot of time. You must stay on top of every aspect of the accident. If you do it from the start, you will have the photographs from the scene and your own accident report. Make sure your chauffeurs know what to do in the event of an accident. Review all of the documents for accuracy. Most importantly, review the police reports. These will be used as key references in any disputes or possible litigation. Be prepared to make follow-up call after follow-up call. You are the only one who has an urgency to get the situation resolved. The insurance agent and company will work on it but they also have other claims pending. You need to be your own advocate after the accident.
Don’t sign or speak to anyone until you know what it is they are asking for. We got call after call from the other guy’s insurance company asking us to sign a release for the vehicle so they did not have to pay for the storage. When we spoke to our agent, he said not to do anything until we got approval from our insurance company. The other company was relentless in calling us to get our release. In fact, they called so often that our staff became frustrated with them.
Understand the extras of your policy. Our policy included a rental car of $75 per day for 30 days. Although this sounds great, our regulatory authority would not allow us to use this vehicle. Additionally, I called three rental car companies to see if they had black Lincoln Town Cars available for rent and none were available. The vehicle had been out of service for two months so a one-month rental, if it is allowed, still would not solve the problem. The claims manager told us that we could have our chrome rims back if we went to the salvage yard and took them off while replacing them with other rims. We just had to find out where they took the vehicle for salvage. By the time we could hire a mechanic to go get the rims and replace them we could buy four new ones.
Do you have to pay the deductible if you are not at fault? We have a $1,000 deductible on our policy. Although the accident was no fault of ours, we had to fight the insurance company of the person who hit us to get the $1,000 deductible back. Our company did not do that for us.
Subrogation. We’ve lost a vehicle for two months and a chauffeur indefinitely. We all know that training a chauffeur to be of senior quality does not happen overnight. The cost of the loss as a result of the accident greatly exceeded the cost of the vehicle. Our insurance company would not subrogate for us. Therefore we needed to hire our own attorney to go after the lost revenue for the vehicle. Some insurance companies will do this for you (especially those who write regularly in our industry). If you ask these questions up front, you could avoid the costs of fighting to get this money back.
Who owns your vehicle? The joke is that no one owns anything anymore — the bank owns everything. When a finance company is owed money on the vehicle, it holds the title. You will not get your payoff until they get theirs, and they send the title to the insurance company. Make sure you follow the process within their organization after the accident. In our case, the insurance company sent a check to the finance company at the end of May. The check got routed incorrectly within the finance company and never got applied. The title then was never sent to the insurance company. The insurance company puts a 10-day hold after they receive the check. Those are business days, so we are looking at two more weeks.
Don’t take the money and run. When you finally get the check, make sure that it is for everything you expect. Don’t run to the bank and cash it if it is only for a partial amount. By cashing the check, it could be construed that you have agreed to the amount paid as the final settlement. If you and the insurance company differ over this, get it resolved before you take the money.
The short lesson in all of this is to do your homework. Do it yourself and know what you are signing. Our industry has good insurance companies that have been working in the industry for many years. If a new company pops up with great prices, go back and talk to your existing company. They may be able to give you insights on why the prices are different. Also, consider asking for references from customers in the limousine industry who they have insured that have had accidents. Call those references and ask them the hard questions about how their claims were handled. Doing your homework upfront will save you grief in the long run.
Here's how to make sure you don't let the sun interfere with safe fleet driving.
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