Be careful when cutting back car insurance
Kailua businessman Joseph Hallabay learned that scrimping on his auto insurance was a costly mistake.
And he hopes other consumers can learn from his experience and think carefully before they cut their insurance coverage.
Hallabay, who owns the Fantastic Sam's hair salon next to Hamakua Safeway, said he was stopped at a red light on the morning of May 8 in the Chinatown area when a truck driven by an uninsured driver hit his 1996 Saab 900.
He was thankful that neither he nor his two passengers were injured. Then he filed a police report, figured that he'd do some paperwork, then get his repairs covered with the help of Hawai'i's no-fault insurance law.
But this week — months later — he headed for Small Claims Court, frustrated by the delays.
Hallabay, who has run his Kailua store for five years, said he was looking to save some money on his annual auto-insurance costs. So he eliminated his collision coverage and cut back his coverage to just be the minimum required by law.
He estimated a savings of $300 to $400 a year. "I thought we could use that 'saved' money for something else more important," he said.
But he said the savings cost him much more. If he had collision coverage, his insurance company would have helped deal with the other party.
Without such coverage, he said, he has had to deal with the insurance case examiner and the changing story of the other driver. "I have to fight for myself, and I've spoken to lots of attorneys, and because it was a minor accident not involving any severe pains or life loss, they would not take the case," Hallabay said.
One of the state's largest insurers — Island Insurance Companies — occasionally sees people trim their insurance coverage but cautions against making such decisions.
"We do see a lot of people just buy the state-required limits," said John Schapperle, president and chief operating officer of Island Insurance.
And Schapperle said the lower coverage means people don't have enough coverage to pay for accident claims. "There's not much we can do because people are complying with state law."
Despite the troubled economy, "we haven't seen any trend where people have cut back," Schapperle said.
But he said people do look to the short-term upfront savings since insurance isn't something that you're using every day.
Because he's in the business, he said, he believes in keeping substantial coverage. He said Hallabay's story could have been even worse. If the truck had hit Hallabay and that caused him to rear-end another car which caused injuries, Schapperle said, he could have been sued and his business assets endangered.
"Unfortunately, it's a difficult situation," Schapperle said.
He said people should be cautious about changing their insurance without understanding what they are dropping.
Hallabay said he's increased his insurance coverage. "This is to warn people," he said.