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Georgia Court Determines Insurer Liability Under Two Uninsured Motorist Policies in Auto Accident Case

atlanta-from-north-avenue-bridge-813247-mIf you are in a car accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist (“UM”), you may still be able to recover damages for injuries sustained as a result of that driver’s negligence. For instance, if the at-fault driver’s insurer’s policy limits do not provide full compensation for the injuries suffered, you may be entitled to UM benefits under one or more insurance policies. Pursuant to Georgia law, insurers are required to offer motorists two different types of UM coverage:  “added on” (excess coverage) or “reduced by,” under which the UM limits of liability coverage are reduced by the amount an insured receives from the at-fault driver’s insurer. In any car accident case, it is important to determine the extent of the negligent driver’s insurance coverage. While these issues may seem complicated, an experienced injury attorney from the local Atlanta area would be able to guide you through the process with the goal of achieving the best recovery under the circumstances of your case.

In a recent case, Allstate Fire and Casualty Ins. Co. v. Rothman (Ga. Ct. of App. 2015), Charles Rothman suffered injuries as a result of an automobile accident with Duc Nyguen. At the time of the accident, Rothman was driving his employer’s truck. Rothman brought an action against Nyguen to recover lost wages and medical costs. In connection with this case, Rothman served the complaint on his own personal insurer (Allstate) and his employer’s insurer (Westfield Ins. Co.), as uninsured motorist carriers. Nyguen’s insurer, Travelers Ins. Co., paid Rothman $100,000, the maximum amount available under the policy.

Once this payment was made, the other two insurers, Allstate and Westfield, disputed whether Allstate was entitled to “set off” the $100,000 payment Rothman received. Rothman petitioned this court to issue a determination as to the priority of UM coverage available under the two policies. The trial court ruled that Allstate was “primarily” responsible for compensating Rothman, without a set-off or reduction for any recovery from the at-fault driver’s insurer, since it received a premium from Rothman. Allstate appealed, arguing that the trial court made an error by applying “stacking rules” that effectively “voided” the language of the Allstate policy and deprived the company of its contractual right to “set off” the payment.

The court of appeals reviewed the evolution of UM coverage in Georgia, which led courts to develop the “priority of payment” rules to determine which insurance policy provides primary versus excess coverage. The court pointed out that the Allstate policy provided “reduced by” coverage, and the Westfield policy provided “added on” coverage. Since the lower court’s ruling was handed down, the court ruled in another case with multiple UM carriers. That court held that the carrier providing “reduced by” coverage is entitled to the set-off, no matter whether that insurer would be considered the primary or secondary carrier under the stacking rules. Ultimately, the court of appeals agreed with Allstate and reversed the decision.

The court looked to the policy language as controlling the outcome. Here, since Allstate is the only “reduced by” policy, it is entitled to set off the payment from Nyguen. This case is a good example of why someone injured in a car accident due to the fault of another should contact an experienced injury attorney who would be able to assess the case and prepare a solid strategy for recovery in accordance with Georgia’s complicated laws. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury attorney with over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another’s negligence in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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