After an Atlanta car accident, an injured person may need to hold an at-fault driver accountable in a personal injury lawsuit. However, many insured drivers in Atlanta only obtain the minimum requirements of liability insurance. The minimum coverage for bodily injuries is only $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident. Most people do not have significant assets that would allow them to cover another person’s losses beyond what their liability insurance provides. If you were in an accident with an at-fault driver who was uninsured or underinsured, you may need to turn to your own uninsured/underinsured coverage in order to recoup your losses. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, the court considered the denial of a defendant car insurance company’s motion for summary judgment on an underinsured motorist claim.
The insurance company argued that the insured didn’t provide notice as soon as possible after a car accident with an underinsured driver. At the time of the accident, the insured was named on one of the defendant’s policies. It provided for $250,000 in uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.
The insurance policy specified that notice should be provided as soon as possible after an accident. The notice, to be valid, needed to name the identity of the insured; the time, place, and details of the collision; and the names and addresses of the person injured, along with any witnesses to the car accident. There were also policy conditions with which the insured needed to comply.
After the accident, the insured went to his primary care doctor for diagnosis and treatment of lower back pain that emerged on the day of the car accident. An orthopedic surgeon performed electric shock therapy and provided other nonsurgical treatment. Later cervical surgery was recommended and performed. The insured continued to experience left-hand numbness post-surgery and underwent physical therapy. Another surgery was recommended. That was the point at which the uninsured realized that the value of his injuries could exceed the $250,000 liability limits of the other driver’s insurance policy. Once another surgery was performed, he required antibiotic infusions. He also needed additional hand surgeries.
The insured’s attorney provided notice of the car accident to the insurance company more than a year after the accident. The lower court denied the insurance company’s motion on the grounds that there was an issue of material fact regarding the timeliness of the insured’s notice. It reasoned that the insured’s ignorance about how severe the injuries were could excuse a delay. The appellate court granted the insurance company’s application for interlocutory review.
On appeal, the insurance company argued that the terms of the notice provision were unambiguous and therefore needed to be enforced as written. The insured argued that he could reasonably understand from the policy he didn’t have an affirmative duty to provide notice to the insurance company because notice wasn’t explicitly required in the policy language, and “as soon as possible” was a vague term.
The appellate court explained that someone trying to recover under an insurance contract, or another contract, needs to perform the appropriate conditions precedent before the contract becomes obligatory. Accordingly, insurance coverage may be forfeited if an insured doesn’t comply with the conditions and has no justification for lack of compliance.
The appellate court reasoned that the only reasonable interpretation of the policy at issue was that notice had to be given to the insurer as soon as possible. There was a little wiggle room in the language of the policy, but a long unjustifiable delay could be found to be so unreasonable it prevented coverage. In this case, the notice was not provided as soon as possible after the car accident.
The insurer also argued that waiting more than 13 months was unreasonable as a matter of law. The insured had gone to get treated on the same day as the accident and even went through surgery and got other medical treatments. However, he didn’t give notice to his insurer until more than a year after the accident.
The appellate court reversed the denial of the insurer’s motion for summary judgment.
If you were injured in a car accident in Atlanta that was caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver, you should consult seasoned attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert. When you bring an uninsured or underinsured claim, you stand in an adversarial relationship with your own insurance company. It’s important to retain counsel. Mr. Ozcomert has more than two decades of experience and may be able to help you. Call us at (404) 370-1000 or contact us via our website.