One of the most important things an experienced lawyer can do at the outset of a new case is to investigate all sources of potential insurance coverage available to cover the client’s damages. One such source of recovery is frequently a client’s own uninsured or underinsured motorist (UM) coverage through their own automobile insurance policy. We’ve written extensively on this topic before, but it is an area full of potential pitfalls. Many of the issues involved with UM claims need to be evaluated from the earliest days of the case to prevent serious problems down the road. Two of the most common hurdles involve the insurance policy’s notice provision and the question of the client’s election or rejection of any UM coverage.
In regard to notice, every insurance policy will contain a provision requiring the injured person to inform the insurance company of the event that led to their injury. The specific language of the policy will determine how long the injured person has to put their insurance company on notice, but no matter what the policy says, an insured should always notify their carrier as soon as possible. Some policies will say that the insurer has to have notice within 30 days. Any delay without a very good excuse is going to be subject to a denial of the claim or a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment. The Georgia appellate courts have held that delays of four to twelve months are unreasonable as a matter of law that preclude a recovery under the policy. Kay-Lex Co. v. Essex Inc. Co, 286 Ga.App. 484 (2007) (twelve-month delay unreasonable as matter of law); State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. LeBlanc, 494 F. App’x 17, 23 (11th Cir. 2012) (four-month delay unreasonable).
With respect to any rejection of UM coverage, unless the insured driver has rejected the coverage in writing, the policy must provide coverage with limits (1) not less than $25,000/$50,000 or (2) equal to the liability coverage limits contained in the policy. O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(a). You should always ask to see the signed rejection form if the UM carrier is claiming there is no coverage available.
Bottom line: if you’ve been in a wreck, you should contact your own insurance company immediately to tell them about the crash. In addition, you should check your policy now to make sure you’re carrying sufficient UM coverage in the event you’re in a wreck.