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Additional Insurance Coverage Under Georgia Auto Policies Could Be Available in UM Situations

In order to properly evaluate any negligence case, Georgia lawyers will investigate what insurance coverage is applicable to the case and a lot of time, this involves excess coverage such as Uninsured Underinsured Motorist Coverage. As part of this process, att0rneys may look at the case of Georgia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. North, Nos. A11A0047 and A11A0134, 2011 WL 2716261 (Ga. Ct. App. July 14, 2011). Being sure to read the substitute opinion and not the original.

In this case, the Court notes, “Courts have held that there must be an offer of UM coverage and an insured must be given the option to reject such coverage, select minimum coverage, or select coverage up to the limits of liability under the policy. Georgia Interlocal Risk Mgmt. Agency v. Godfrey, 305 Ga. App. 130, 131 (2010) (citing O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(a)(1), (3) & (b)(1) (D)(ii)).

Logically it follows that an insured cannot accept or reject UM coverage if there has been no offer from the insurer. Cases in Georgia have held that  insurers are required to offer UM coverage in an amount equal to liability limits, but no cases in Georgia have addressed the fact that the natural consequence of the failure to offer is an insured‚s inability to make an affirmative choice of UM coverage.

Examples of decisions where Courts have discussed this issue in greater detail are found in foreign jurisdictions with similar UM statutes. For
example, South Carolina‚s UM statute, much like Georgia’s, states that automobile insurance carriers shall also offer, at the option of the insured, uninsured motorist coverage up to the limits of the insured’s liability coverage.  S.C. Code Ann. § 33-7-160. In construing this statute, South Carolina courts have held that an insured receives a meaningful offer only when the insurer provides “adequate information” in such a manner as to allow the insured the opportunity to make an intelligent decision of whether to accept or reject UM coverage. Ray v. Austin, 388 S.C. 605, 612ˆ13 (2010); State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Wannamaker, 291 S.C. 518, 521 (1987).

Providing a manual or booklet on UM coverage, without also discussing or verbally presenting the option, is insufficient to constitute a valid offer
of UM coverage. Wannamaker, 291 S.C. at 521. In Wannamaker, the insurer sent a nine-page informational booklet about UM insurance to the insured. Id. at
520. In making its decision, the court adopted the standard articulated in Hastings v. United Pacific Insurance Company to determine whether or not the
insurer complied with its duty to meaningful offer of optional UM coverage. The Hastings four-prong standard provides:

(1)  the insurer’s notification process must be commercially reasonable,
whether oral or in writing;

(2)  the insurer must specify the limits of optional coverage and not merely
offer additional coverage in general terms;

(3)  the insurer must intelligibly advise the insured of the nature of the
optional coverage; and

(4) the insured must be told that optional coverages are available for an
additional premium.

Id. at 521 (citing Hastings, 318 N.W.2d 849 (Minn. 1982).

Applying this standard, the court held that the insurer failed to provide a meaningful offer of UM insurance to the insured because the insurer did not
ask the insured about, explain, communicate or in any way offer him underinsured motorist coverage.  Wannamaker, 291 S.C. at 521. The insurer
would have met its burden only if he had also discussed UM coverage  and made a verbal offer to the insured to purchase it. Id.

By statue in Georgia, insurance companies must make a meaningful offer of UM to the insured and the insured must decline this coverage or it will most likely be construed as if there was UM coverage. O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(a)(1), (3) & (b)(1) (D)(ii)). This is a good law which attempts to preserve and injured insured’s ability to be adequately compensated when the driver that injured them is not insured or is insured but the damages exceed the amount of insurance that the at-fault party has.

For over 25 years, Attorney Robert J. Fleming has been handling auto accidents, medical malpractice and serious personal injury lawsuits for individuals and families who have been injured or died as a result of the negligence or malpractice in the Atlanta, Georgia area. He is a partner in the law firm of Katz Wright Fleming & Dodson, LLC and regularly handles cases in Atlanta as well as Alpharetta, Brookhaven, College Park, Duluth, Decatur, Doraville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, Smyrna, Peachtree City, and other cities in Georgia. He is committed to making a difference in his clients’ lives. If you or a family member have been seriously injured or died as a result of negligence and would like quality legal representation or if you would just like to consult about a potential case, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.

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