The Maryland state legislature has approved a law requiring motorists in the state to carry higher minimum protections for accident victims starting in 2011. Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to sign the bill May 20, along with a draft of other measures approved during the legislative session that just ended.

The state currently mandates a minimum of $20,000 in liability coverage per person, and $40,000 per accident involving more than one victim. Under the new law, the minimums would increase to $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident, meaning that a family injured in an accident could get $60,000 in hospital bills and other expenses covered by insurance, assuming the other driver has auto insurance.

The previous limits had not changed for 38 years. Supporters of the law said the state requirements were not keeping up with inflation, which left victims vulnerable to out-of-pocket expenses. Opponents argue the new law could increase the number of uninsured motorists and leave victims with no coverage.

The new law makes Maryland’s required minimums higher than most states. About half of U.S. states require $25,000 in coverage per person, and $50,000 per accident. The new minimums match Minnesota and North Carolina, but are below the levels in Alaska and Maine, which each require minimums of $50,000 and $100,000.

Most drivers – about 2 million policy holders – already have more than the minimum coverage. Up to 200,000 other motorists currently carry only the minimum, and could see increases of several hundred dollars under the new law.

Who supports the measure?

Trial lawyers pushed the measure, arguing that new limits would help guarantee that victims could collect enough insurance money to cover their injuries. They also said the current $20,000 minimum, which was approved in 1972, is equivalent to more than $100,000 today.

The Maryland Hospital Association also backs the law. Hospitals hope to recover some of the $12 million in uncompensated annual costs for care.

Who opposes the measure?

On the other hand, insurance companies and other groups are concerned that the increased premiums will cause many drivers to completely drop their legally required insurance coverage. Many of the 200,000 motorists paying the minimum may not be able to afford higher premiums. This could leave accident victims with no insurance payments for accidents involving uninsured motorists.

The new limits also may be unnecessary. The 2009 average liability claim was just under $11,000, and about 1 percent of injury claims exceed the current minimum.

Many are particularly concerned about the new requirements during tough economic times. A growing number of drivers are already dropping their insurance coverage to save money. The Insurance Research Council estimates the national uninsured driver rate will exceed 16 percent in 2010, up about 3 percent from 2007.

To learn more about Maryland’s higher minimum injury coverage regulations and how they may affect you and your future claims, speak to an experienced personal injury attorney. A lawyer can review your case, explain your legal rights and help you determine the best course of action based on your circumstances.