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Sources of Recovery For Serious Georgia Car Accidents

Many Georgia car accidents result in the accident victim suffering severe injuries which can require hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. Unfortunately, some at-fault parties may have only $25,000 in insurance liability coverage. This presents a challenge to Atlanta auto accident lawyers. However, there are many other sources of recovery that can be used to compensate the client, the trick is being diligent and finding the money. Because someone is seriously injured, the incentive is great to do all we can as lawyers to find these extra sources and ensure that our clients are adequately compensated.

One source of extra insurance is uninsured/underinsured (“UM”) motorist coverage. This coverage will apply for all of the client’s insurance policies. It is possible that UM coverage may be available under the client’s umbrella policy. It should also be noted that UM coverage will be deemed to exist if the automobile insurer did not comply with O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11 and produce evidence that the insured rejected UM coverage. Additional source of UM coverage may be found on other cars or other vehicles (such as motorcycles) owned by the client (in which case the coverage would “stack”).

If the injured client lives with a resident relative who is insured and has a UM policy, the client is covered under the resident relative’s UM under O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(b)(1)(B). Finally, if the injured client was in a work vehicle at the time of the accident, the employer’s automobile insurance policy may provide UM coverage as well.

The full text of O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11 (2010) is as follows:
33-7-11. Uninsured motorist coverage under motor vehicle liability policies

(a) (1) No automobile liability policy or motor vehicle liability policy shall be issued or delivered in this state to the owner of such vehicle or shall be issued or delivered by any insurer licensed in this state upon any motor vehicle then principally garaged or principally used in this state unless it contains an endorsement or provisions undertaking to pay the insured damages for bodily injury, loss of consortium or death of an insured, or for injury to or destruction of property of an insured under the named insured’s policy sustained from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle, within limits exclusive of interests and costs which at the option of the insured shall be:

(A) Not less than $25,000.00 because of bodily injury to or death of one person in any one accident, and, subject to such limit for one person, $50,000.00 because of bodily injury to or death of two or more persons in any one accident, and $25,000.00 because of injury to or destruction of property; or

(B) Equal to the limits of liability because of bodily injury to or death of one person in any one accident and of two or more persons in any one accident, and because of injury to or destruction of property of the insured which is contained in the insured’s personal coverage in the automobile liability policy or motor vehicle liability policy issued by the insurer to the insured if those limits of liability exceed the limits of liability set forth in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph. In any event, the insured may affirmatively choose uninsured motorist limits in an amount less than the limits of liability.

(2) The coverages for bodily injury or death or for injury to or destruction of property of an insured person, as provided in paragraph (1) of this subsection, may be subject to deductible amounts as follows:

(A) For bodily injury or death, deductibles of $250.00, $500.00, or $1,000.00, at the option of any named insured in the policy. Deductibles above $1,000.00 may be offered, subject to approval of the Commissioner;

(B) For injury to or destruction of property of the insured, deductibles of $250.00, $500.00, or $1,000.00, at the option of any named insured in the policy. Deductibles above $1,000.00 may be offered, subject to the approval of the Commissioner;

(C) Deductible amounts shown in subparagraphs (A) and (B) of this paragraph may not be reduced below $250.00;

(D) Deductible amounts shown in subparagraphs (A) and (B) of this paragraph shall be made available at a reduced premium; and

(E) Where an insurer has combined into one single limit the coverages required under paragraph (1) of this subsection, any deductible selected under subparagraphs (A) and (B) of this paragraph shall be combined, and the resultant total shall be construed to be a single aggregate deductible.

(3) The coverage required under paragraph (1) of this subsection shall not be applicable where any insured named in the policy shall reject the coverage in writing. The coverage required under paragraph (1) of this subsection excludes umbrella or excess liability policies unless affirmatively provided for in such policies or in a policy endorsement. The coverage need not be provided in or supplemental to a renewal policy where the named insured had rejected the coverage in connection with a policy previously issued to said insured by the same insurer. The amount of coverage need not be increased in a renewal policy from the amount shown on the declarations page for coverage existing prior to July 1, 2001. The amount of coverage need not be increased from the amounts shown on the declarations page on renewal once coverage is issued.

(4) The filing of a petition for relief in bankruptcy under a chapter of Title 11 of the United States Code by an uninsured motorist as defined in this Code section, or the appointment of a trustee in bankruptcy for an uninsured motorist as defined in this Code section, or the discharge in bankruptcy of an uninsured motorist as defined in this Code section shall not affect the legal liability of an uninsured motorist as the term “legal liability” is used in this Code section, and such filing of a petition for relief in voluntary or involuntary bankruptcy, the appointment of a trustee in bankruptcy, or the discharge in bankruptcy of such an uninsured motorist shall not be pleaded by the insurance carrier providing uninsured motorist protection in bar of any claim of an insured person as defined in this Code section so as to defeat payment for damages sustained by any insured person by the insurance company providing uninsured motorist protection and coverage under the terms of this chapter as now or hereafter amended; but the insurance company or companies shall have the right to defend any such action in its own name or in the name of the uninsured motorist and shall make payment of any judgment up to the limits of the applicable uninsured motorist insurance protection afforded by its policy. In those cases, the uninsured motorist upon being discharged in bankruptcy may plead the discharge in bankruptcy against any subrogation claim of any uninsured motorist carrier making payment of a claim or judgment in favor of an uninsured person, and the uninsured motorist may plead said motorist’s discharge in bankruptcy in bar of all amounts of an insured person’s claim in excess of uninsured motorist protection available to the insured person.
(b)(1) As used in this Code section, the term:

(A) “Bodily injury” shall include death resulting from bodily injury.

(B) “Insured” means the named insured and, while resident of the same household, the spouse of any such named insured and relatives of either, while in a motor vehicle or otherwise; any person who uses, with the expressed or implied consent of the named insured, the motor vehicle to which the policy applies; a guest in such motor vehicle to which the policy applies; or the personal representatives of any of the above. For policies issued or renewed on or after July 1, 2006, the term “insured” shall also mean a foster child or ward residing in the household of the named insured pursuant to a court order, guardianship, or placement by the Department of Family and Children Services or other department or agency of the state, while in a motor vehicle or otherwise.

(C) “Property of the insured” as used in subsection (a) of this Code section means the insured motor vehicle and includes the personal property owned by the insured and contained in the insured motor vehicle.

(D) “Uninsured motor vehicle” means a motor vehicle, other than a motor vehicle owned by or furnished for the regular use of the named insured, the spouse of the named insured, and, while residents of the same household, the relative of either, as to which there is:

(i) No bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance;

(ii) Bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance and the insured has uninsured motorist coverage provided under the insured’s motor vehicle insurance policy; the motor vehicle shall be considered uninsured, and the amount of available coverages shall be as follows:

(I) Such motor vehicle shall be considered uninsured to the full extent of the limits of the uninsured motorist coverage provided under the insured’s motor vehicle insurance policies, and such coverages shall apply to the insured’s losses in addition to the amounts payable under any available bodily injury liability and property damage liability insurance coverages. The insured’s uninsured motorist coverage shall not be used to duplicate payments made under any available bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance coverages but instead shall be available as additional insurance coverage in excess of any available bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance coverages; provided, however, that the insured’s combined recovery from the insured’s uninsured motorist coverages and the available coverages under the bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance on such uninsured motor vehicle shall not exceed the sum of all economic and noneconomic losses sustained by the insured. For purposes of this subdivision, available coverages under the bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance coverages on such motor vehicle shall be the limits of coverage less any amounts by which the maximum amounts payable under such limits of coverage have, by reason of payment of other claims or otherwise, been reduced below the limits of coverage;

(II) Provided, however, that an insured may reject the coverage referenced in subdivision (I) of this division and select in writing coverage for the occurrence of sustaining losses from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle that considers such motor vehicle to be uninsured only for the amount of the difference between the available coverages under the bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance coverages on such motor vehicle and the limits of the uninsured motorist coverages provided under the insured’s motor vehicle insurance policies; and, for purposes of this subdivision, available coverages under the bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance coverages on such motor vehicle shall be the limits of coverage less any amounts by which the maximum amounts payable under such limits of coverage have, by reason of payment of other claims or otherwise, been reduced below the limits of coverage; and

(III) Neither coverage under subdivision (I) nor (II) of this division shall be applicable if the insured rejects such coverages as provided in paragraph (3) of subsection (a) of this Code section. For private passenger motor vehicle insurance policies in effect on January 1, 2009, insurers shall send to their insureds who have not rejected coverage pursuant to paragraph (3) of subsection (a) of this Code section a notice at least 45 days before the first renewal of such policies advising of the coverage options set forth in this division. Such notice shall not be required for any subsequent renewals for policies in effect on January 1, 2009, or for any renewals for policies issued after January 1, 2009. The coverage set forth in subdivision (I) of this division need not be provided in or supplemental to a renewal policy where the named insured has rejected the coverage set forth in subdivision (I) of this division and selected the coverage set forth in subdivision (II) of this division in connection with a policy previously issued to said insured by the same insurer;

(iii) Bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance in existence but the insurance company writing the insurance has legally denied coverage under its policy;

(iv) Bodily injury liability and property damage liability insurance in existence but the insurance company writing the insurance is unable, because of being insolvent, to make either full or partial payment with respect to the legal liability of its insured, provided that in the event that a partial payment is made by or on behalf of the insolvent insurer with respect to the legal liability of its insured, then the motor vehicle shall only be considered to be uninsured for the amount of the difference between the partial payment and the limits of the uninsured motorist coverage provided under the insured’s motor vehicle insurance policy; or

(v) No bond or deposit of cash or securities in lieu of bodily injury and property damage liability insurance.

(2) A motor vehicle shall be deemed to be uninsured if the owner or operator of the motor vehicle is unknown. In those cases, recovery under the endorsement or provisions shall be subject to the conditions set forth in subsections (c) through (j) of this Code section, and, in order for the insured to recover under the endorsement where the owner or operator of any motor vehicle which causes bodily injury or property damage to the insured is unknown, actual physical contact shall have occurred between the motor vehicle owned or operated by the unknown person and the person or property of the insured. Such physical contact shall not be required if the description by the claimant of how the occurrence occurred is corroborated by an eyewitness to the occurrence other than the claimant.

(c) If the owner or operator of any motor vehicle which causes bodily injury or property damage to the insured is unknown, the insured, or someone on his behalf, or in the event of a death claim someone on behalf of the party having the claim, in order for the insured to recover under the endorsement, shall report the accident as required by Code Section 40-6-273.

(d) In cases where the owner or operator of any vehicle causing injury or damages is known, and either or both are named as defendants in any action for such injury or damages, and a reasonable belief exists that the vehicle is an uninsured motor vehicle under subparagraph (b)(1)(D) of this Code section, a copy of the action and all pleadings thereto shall be served as prescribed by law upon the insurance company issuing the policy as though the insurance company were actually named as a party defendant. If facts arise after an action has been commenced which create a reasonable belief that a vehicle is an uninsured motor vehicle under subparagraph (b)(1)(D) of this Code section and no such reasonable belief existed prior to the commencement of the action against the defendant, and the complaint was timely served on the defendant, the insurance company issuing the policy shall be served within either the remainder of the time allowed for valid service on the defendant or 90 days after the date on which the party seeking relief discovered, or in the exercise of due diligence should have discovered, that the vehicle was uninsured or underinsured, whichever period is greater. The uninsured motorist carrier may conduct discovery as a matter of right for a period of not less than 120 days after service prior to any hearing on the merits of the action. If either the owner or operator of any vehicle causing injury or damages is unknown, an action may be instituted against the unknown defendant as “John Doe,” and a copy of the action and all pleadings thereto shall be served as prescribed by law upon the insurance company issuing the policy as though the insurance company were actually named as a party defendant; and the insurance company shall have the right to file pleadings and take other action allowable by law in the name of “John Doe” or itself. In any case arising under this Code section where service upon an insurance company is prescribed, the clerk of the court in which the action is brought shall have such service accomplished by issuing a duplicate original copy for the sheriff or marshal to place his or her return of service in the same form and manner as prescribed by law for a party defendant. The return of service upon the insurance company shall in no case appear upon the original pleadings in such case. In the case of a known owner or operator of such vehicle, either or both of whom are named as a defendant in such action, the insurance company issuing the policy shall have the right to file pleadings and take other action allowable by law in the name of either the known owner or operator or both or itself.

(1) In cases where the owner or operator of a vehicle causing injury or damages is unknown and an action is instituted against the unknown defendant as “John Doe,” the residence of such “John Doe” defendant shall be presumed to be in the county in which the accident causing injury or damages occurred, or in the county of residence of the plaintiff, at the election of the plaintiff in the action.

(2) A motor vehicle shall not be deemed to be an uninsured motor vehicle within the meaning of this Code section when the owner or operator of such motor vehicle has deposited security, pursuant to Code Section 40-9-32, in the amounts specified in subparagraph (a)(1)(A) of this Code section.

(e) In cases where the owner or operator of any vehicle causing injury or damage is known and either or both are named as defendants in any action for such injury or damages but the person resides out of the state, has departed from the state, cannot after due diligence be found within the state, or conceals himself to avoid the service of summons, and this fact shall appear by affidavit to the satisfaction of the judge of the court, and it shall appear either by affidavit or by a verified complaint on file that a claim exists against the owner or driver in respect to whom service is to be made and that he is a necessary or proper party to the action, the judge may grant an order that the service be made on the owner or driver by the publication of summons. A copy of any action filed and all pleadings thereto shall be served as prescribed by law upon the insurance company issuing the policy as though the insurance company issuing the policy were actually named as a party defendant. Subsection (d) of this Code section shall govern the rights of the insurance company, the duties of the clerk of court concerning duplicate original copies of the pleadings, and the return of service. Following service on the owner or driver by the publication of the summons as provided in this subsection and service as prescribed by law upon the insurance company issuing the policy, the plaintiff shall have a continuing duty to exercise diligence in attempting to locate the owner or driver against whom the claim exists, but such obligation of diligence shall not extend beyond a period of 12 months following service upon the owner or driver by publication of the summons. However, regardless of such time limitations, should the plaintiff learn of the location of the owner or driver against whom the claim exists, the plaintiff shall exercise due diligence to effect service of process upon that owner or driver within a reasonable time period after receiving such information.

(f) An insurer paying a claim under the endorsement or provisions required by subsection (a) of this Code section shall be subrogated to the rights of the insured to whom the claim was paid against the person causing such injury, death, or damage to the extent that payment was made, including the proceeds recoverable from the assets of the insolvent insurer, provided that the bringing of an action against the unknown owner or operator as “John Doe” or the conclusion of such an action shall not constitute a bar to the insured, if the identity of the owner or operator who caused the injury or damages complained of becomes known, bringing an action against the owner or operator theretofore proceeded against as “John Doe”; provided, further, that any recovery against such owner or operator shall be paid to the insurance company to the extent that the insurance company paid the named insured in the action brought against the owner or operator as “John Doe,” except that the insurance company shall pay its proportionate part of any reasonable costs and expense incurred in connection therewith, including reasonable attorney’s fees. Nothing in an endorsement or provisions made under this Code section nor any other provision of law shall operate to prevent the joining in an action against “John Doe” or the owner or operator of the motor vehicle causing such injury as a party defendant, and joinder is specifically authorized.

(g) No endorsement or provisions shall contain a provision requiring arbitration of any claim arising under any endorsement or provisions, nor may anything be required of the insured, subject to the other provisions of the policy or contract, except the establishment of legal liability; nor shall the insured be restricted or prevented, in any manner, from employing legal counsel or instituting legal proceedings.

(h) Before a motor vehicle shall be deemed to be uninsured because of the insolvency of an insurance company under division (b)(1)(D)(iv) of this Code section, an insurer under the uninsured motorists endorsement provisions of subsection (a) of this Code section must be given notice within a reasonable time by its insured of the pendency of any legal proceeding against such insurance company of which he may have knowledge, and before the insured enters into any negotiation or arrangement with the insurance company, and before the insurer is prejudiced by any action or nonaction of the insured with respect to the determinations of the insolvency of the insurance company.

(i) In addition to any offsets or reductions contained in the provisions of division (b)(1)(D)(ii) of this Code section, an endorsement or the provisions of the policy providing the coverage required by this Code section may contain provisions which exclude any liability of the insurer for injury to or destruction of property of the insured for which such insured has been compensated by other property or physical damage insurance and may contain provisions which exclude any liability of the insurer for personal or bodily injury or death for which the insured has been compensated pursuant to “medical payments coverage,” as such term is defined in paragraph (1) of Code Section 33-34-2, or compensated pursuant to workers’ compensation laws.

(j) If the insurer shall refuse to pay any insured any loss covered by this Code section within 60 days after a demand has been made by the insured and a finding has been made that such refusal was made in bad faith, the insurer shall be liable to the insured in addition to any recovery under this Code section for not more than 25 percent of the recovery and all reasonable attorney’s fees for the prosecution of the case under this Code section. The question of bad faith, the amount of the penalty, if any, and the reasonable attorney’s fees, if any, shall be determined in a separate action filed by the insured against the insurer after a judgment has been rendered against the uninsured motorist in the original tort action. The attorney’s fees shall be fixed on the basis of competent expert evidence as to the reasonable value of the services, based on the time spent and legal and factual issues involved, in accordance with prevailing fees in the locality where the action is pending. The trial court shall have the discretion, if it finds such jury verdict fixing attorney’s fees to be greatly excessive or inadequate, to review and amend such portion of the verdict fixing attorney’s fees without the necessity of disapproving the entire verdict. The limitations contained in this subsection in reference to the amount of attorney’s fees are not controlling as to the fees which may be agreed upon by the plaintiff and his attorney for the services of the attorney in the action against the insurer.

Issues related to insurance coverage are complex. If you or a loved one have been involved in a serious automobile accident in Georgia, you should contact an experienced injury attorney as soon as possible. A thorough investigation of the facts of the case can often lead to more available insurance coverage.

Robert J. Fleming is an Atlanta injury lawyer who has successfully handled many automobile accident cases involving complex insurance coverage issues. If you have a potential case and would like a free case evaluation, please call Mr. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online. We are here to help.