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Car Accident Involving Pedestrian Raises Question of Extent of Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Car accident claims and insurance coverage often go hand-in-hand. Most drivers have some form of automobile insurance to provide financial coverage in the event of an accident. Those contracts, however, can be fairly complicated and the extent of recovery is often determined by the circumstances surrounding the claim. In many cases, the insurance company will attempt to limit its out-of-pocket liability for a claim by raising any number of defenses. An experienced personal injury attorney, who is fully familiar with the Georgia insurance code as it applies to cases occurring in and around the Atlanta area, would be able to competently and efficiently handle such claims to ensure that an injured plaintiff achieves a maximum recovery.

In a recent case, Assaf v. Cincinnati Insurance Company (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), the plaintiff Assaf appealed a summary judgment order in favor of the insurance company. Here, the driver of an uninsured vehicle struck and injured Assaf while he was walking alongside a road. Assaf brought a personal injury action against the driver and served Cincinnati Insurance Company (“Cincinnati”) with a copy of the complaint. Cincinnati is Assaf’s uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier. Assaf amended the complaint to add a claim against Cincinnati, arguing that its refusal to provide $1,000,000 in uninsured/underinsured benefits (“UM Coverage’) amounted to a breach of contract.

Much of the case involved a dispute over whether plaintiff was entitled to excess UM Coverage under the applicable insurance policy. According to Assaf, he spoke by telephone with an employee of the insurance agency and requested an umbrella policy that included $1,000,000 in UM Coverage. The actual policy, however, did not provide the excess coverage and there was a “check mark” in a box, which indicated that Assaf (who signed the document) rejected the excess coverage. Despite this evidence, Assaf testified that he did not sign the form – or check the box – rejecting the excess coverage. Assaf claimed that the agent forged his signature. Even assuming Assaf’s claims regarding the forgery were true, Cincinnati moved for summary judgment on various grounds, such as reasonable reliance on the application in issuing coverage, among several other things.

The trial court granted the motion and entered a judgment in favor of the insurance company. Assaf appealed, arguing that there were genuine issues of material fact, most notably, whether he signed the rejection of excess UM Coverage. The court of appeals agreed and reversed the decision. At the time, Georgia law required that without a written waiver, all automobile policies must provide UM Coverage equal to the policies’ overall liability limits. Therefore, in this case if Assaf did not reject the excess coverage in writing, then even if the policy seemed to exclude uninsured motorist coverage, that coverage was required by law, and necessarily part of his original policy by operation of law.

While there were other arguments made in this case, the ultimate conclusion by the court was that there were unresolved issues of material fact that must be decided by a trier of fact. This case is a good example of the technical nature of insurance policies and how a solid understanding of car accident claims in relation to such documents can significantly impact a plaintiff’s recovery for damages. If you have been injured in a car accident, it is important to reach out to an experienced injury attorney with full knowledge of the local laws and procedures affecting your case.

Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling personal injury cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of negligent driving in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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