Real Meaning of ‘Underinsured’ Gets Personal

Insurance folks I’ve met over the years may know the story of my daughter Jenna’s car accident. It’s a painful, very personal story. But by sharing it, I hope to help other people avoid this situation.

Jenna’s story actually starts before she was born. I was told I could never have children. So that is the first miracle.

Here’s the second:

On December 10, 2017, Jenna, her fiancé and her future father-in-law suffered an automobile accident — they were T-boned by a driver carrying minimum liability limits. Tragically, Jenna’s future father-in-law died.

That night Jenna became my miracle for a second time. Her neurosurgeon said most people don’t live when the neck is fractured as Jenna’s was. Even if they do live, they are paralyzed from the neck down. Jenna went through emergency neck surgery the next day, and the neurosurgeon said it was like putting back together pieces of a very tiny puzzle.

Jenna also had a punctured lung, four broken ribs, two breaks of her clavicle, a huge break in the humerus of her left arm, a fractured jaw, nerve damage on the left side of her head and a severed radial nerve.

We finally heard some good news nine months later. Her radial nerve had started to regenerate enough to where she could return to work as a journalist. We learned she would not require additional surgery on her left hand, which is her primary hand. She still sees an occupational therapist twice a week to see if they can bring it completely back to life.

For years Jenna had fought me over her automobile liability and uninsured motorists (UM) limits. I kept hounding her to keep her limits up. (I wanted her to have 250/500/250 but she ended up with 100/300/100 because I said that was the absolute minimum.)

Jenna’s expenses for the first week alone in the hospital were $174,000. At last count, the medical bills were nearing $300,000. By stacking coverages from all the insurance policies, we cobbled together enough coverage.

But Jenna went nine months on disability, and eight of those months were at 60% salary. She has ongoing medical expenses. And she doesn’t know if she will ever regain full use of her left hand.

Jenna was very lucky. But what if she had had only minimum state-required limits or had waived the coverage? She could have received only $35,000 — completely inadequate to cover the reduction in wages, ongoing medical care, etc.

After the accident, I offered via Facebook to answer questions about car insurance limits for Jenna’s friends — or anyone. Luckily most older adults had at least 100/300/100 but only one of Jenna’s friends (younger generation) did, and that’s because her father is an agent. Most had minimum limits.

And this isn’t just about car accidents. Ask the poor folks in California who are underinsured after the wildfires, an article in IBA said 80% of homeowners were underinsured. When I hear about folks being underinsured, I wonder: Why the hell does any insurance professional — carrier, agent or broker — still sell on price? And why would any consumer buy solely on price?

Sure, 15 minutes might save you 15% or more on your car insurance. But what’s the true cost of that?

There is genuine value in insurance consulting, good advice, and proper coverage.

Linda Dodson, Chief Experience Officer, AVYST

December 11, 2018


  1. John leonard on December 12, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    Linda, that is a great story that I will share with friends and relatives.
    Enjoy the holidays,
    John Leonard

  2. Bill McGraw, CIC on December 12, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    Sadly, agents sell on price, because BILLIONS are spent each year telling consumers that CHEAPER is better; and the fact is, consumers want cheaper. Here is the alternative for agents: Offer what they NEED, and sell them what they want. Something is better than nothing, and nothing is what an agent gets when he refuses to sell the “cheaper” lower limits. Having said that, it behooves agents to sell coverage, and to get consumers to sign off if they decline offers of higher limits. I get the same complaint every other renewal, that my customer’s home or car is “over-insured”. I have NEVER heard that same complaint at claim time; in fact, there have been times that they wished they had more. Any agent who has to silver bullet to this catch 22, I’m all ears.

  3. Wendy Lawlor on December 12, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. This is so important for everyone to understand. I have found that when talking to clients, the limits are meaningless numbers until I relate them to a claim and the potential medical bills and lost wages. Then people’s eyes get wide and they see the value of, and the need for, increased coverage limits.

  4. Jeff Mays on December 12, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Linda, It is great to hear that Jenna is recovering and that the accident didn’t create a total disaster in her life. Best wishes to her complete recovery! I could only imagine the additional stress she would have been under had she not had the coverage she has.
    As an agent I check in with clients everyday to offer to review their policies to make sure they are covered properly. It scares me how many never get back to me. And it totally frustrates me now to hear people who want to go with State minimum coverage, even when we show them it is only $5- $10 a month more to have good coverage.
    Thanks for sharing the story and keep up the good work spreading the word to others- sell on the client’s need and not price!

    • avyst2 on December 12, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      Thank you, Jeff. The more we can share stories like this, the more we can hopefully get folks away from price.

  5. Jerry R. Austin on December 12, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    This is such an important story and message. I am an insurance broker of 35 years. I hear the same refrain from most people. I just want to save money. Most do not know what limits they have. Most have the limits their insurance agent quoted, whatever that is. If they went shopping to save money, most have limits below $100/300/100. I will share your story with all who will listen to me. Thank you for sharing this very painful experience.

  6. John Parsons on December 12, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    Very kind of you to use a personal example of why this is so important Linda!! Am so glad your daughter is doing so much better than it could have been.

  7. Mike Peterson on December 12, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    You are absolutely correct. It reminds me of a quote by Ben Franklin. “The bitterness of poor quality (inadequate coverage) remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

  8. Doreen Ho on December 13, 2018 at 1:22 am

    Thank you for sharing your daughter’s story and I will pass on to my friends and family
    members. Great to hear that Jenna is getting better day by day with her physical
    therapy. Wish you and Jenna have a safe and wonderful Christmas and New Year!

  9. Nancy Moson on December 16, 2018 at 12:56 am

    Thank you for sharing your story…I am an agent and every day I fight the battle with insureds between premium and coverage. It is very frustrating because I have seen the claims where the coverage is needed and yet so many people think it will never happen to them. The cost to increase coverage for the peace of mind to me is sooo worth it. I will be using your story as a valuable example.

  10. Jan Pell - The Insurance Mother! on January 18, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I truly hope your daughter will fully recover physically and emotionally from that experience. I will share this story because so often all I hear is people wanting their insurance cost to be lower but the people who experience a loss then appreciate the value of having good coverage and listening to an agent that educates them so they have great coverage. I always refuse to do minimum coverage and then explain why. My insured’s become my friends because they know I care about them and do the best for them!

  11. SharRon White on January 19, 2019 at 1:06 am

    This is a story that’s very painful to hear, but stories like this occur much too often. I’ve been in insurance sales for over 45 years and as other insurance agents mentioned the complaints from our clients are constant and all the same. Where can I save money, this cost too much? Unfortunately sometimes the wrong coverage is in place when they need and require more. Of course the pennies a day saved are a costly mistake and definitely not worth it.

    As difficult as it has been for your family, I certainly appreciate you sharing your life changing personal experience. Continual healing for your family.