News10NBC Investigates: Single people in NY auto-enrolled in spousal liability auto coverage

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — All drivers in New York State are being automatically enrolled in spousal liability coverage, even if you don’t have a spouse. 

A new law requires insurers in New York not just to offer the coverage which they’ve been doing for over 20 years, but to automatically enroll all of their customers into it — unless you specifically opt-out.   

When Joe DeMaria was renewing his car insurance policy on Wednesday he noticed something odd.

“It indicates that spousal liability coverage has been added to my policy,” he recalls. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why is this added?’ I’m not married, and I never have been married.”

DeMaria called his insurer.

“The first rep says, ‘I’m going to send you over a form, it’s a new New York State policy we can’t control it, you have to opt out,’” he tells News10NBC. 

The follow-up email he got from his insurance company goes on to explain that as of August 1, New York law requires supplemental spousal liability insurance be included in all policies — unless it’s specifically declined by the driver. 

The coverage, which typically costs on average about $50 per year, provides benefits in the event your spouse is responsible for an accident and you as a passenger, are seriously injured.

“Say your husband is behind the wheel and you get hurt, we’re talking about his legal liability if any, for your injuries. So in effect you would have to sue him,” explains Tim Dodge of the Independent Insurance Agents of New York. 

The coverage has been available in New York for decades but as of this month, policy holders have to opt-out instead of opting-in.

“It applies to any policy that’s issued, renewed, or changed on or after August 1,” Dodge explains. 

Peter Gregory is a Partner at McConville Considine Cooman & Morin.

“If your spouse accidentally crosses the lane or isn’t paying attention or makes some sort of mistake, it’s good to have this kind of policy there if you’re the passenger and you’re injured. It’s rare, but it’s one of those things that you’re glad that it’s there if you need it,” Gregory tells News10NBC.

So, why are people who are not legally married auto-enrolled in this coverage?

“I think that’s a policy decision that was made by NYS lawmakers. It is rare, but it’s also tragic when this happens and the coverage isn’t there,” Gregory says. “Technically, we would be bringing a claim against the insurance that’s going to step in and provide coverage. You’re not seeking assets from your spouse because those are likely your assets as well, and it really is a case-by-case situation.”

DeMaria was eventually able to opt-out, but it wasn’t easy.

“Three hours on the telephone to have this corrected,” he explains.

That may be because it appears New York State is the only state where this is mandated so, national insurers are still working on their opt-out systems.