Ann-Margaret Perkins Wins UM Coverage Court of Appeals Case
Insurers write contracts to favor themselves.
Sometimes we forget insurance is simply a contract in which an insurer promises to pay under certain circumstances. Insurers work hard to write those contracts in ways that will allow them to avoid having to pay claims. This is especially true with uninsured motorist insurers who often have time limits in which a person must give notice of a potential claim. That notice is required even if the person who caused the wreck has insurance. Miss the time limit, and you may lose your UM coverage.
We recently had this issue come up in a case involving a severely injured client. The client lived with her daughter. She did not notify her daughter’s UM carrier of the wreck; in fact the client didn’t even realize the resident relative’s UM coverage applied to her. We were hired close to the two years statute of limitations.
When we filed suit we notified all UM carriers. One claimed it was too late, and that it did not have to provide coverage. The trial judge agreed with the insurance company and ruled our client could not access that UM coverage (which made a difference of $25,000.00 that was available to this severely injured client). Ann-Margaret Perkins did not agree so she appealed the case to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Attention to details matters
Folks poke fun at lawyers for reading every word of contracts, but that is exactly what Ann-Margaret Perkins had to do to get justice for this client. Insurers get to write the policies they issue to us, and as part of that they get to define the terms used in the policy. In this case Page 2 of the policy contained a notice requirement. Just above that notice requirement was a heading “IF YOU HAVE AN ACCIDENT OR LOSS”.
Later in the policy the insurer defined the term “You” as “the policyholder… and spouse” (see the highlighted language below).
Our hard work pays off
Our client was not the policyholder or policyholder’s spouse; she was the daughter of the policyholder. Ann-Margaret argued that because the heading of the notice provision said “IF YOU HAVE AN ACCIDENT OR LOSS” a reasonable insured would read that to mean “you” as defined by the policy, which was only the policyholder and spouse. The full bench of the Court of Appeals considered the case and agreed with Ann-Margaret’s position, saying “Very likely, AFIC intended its notice provision to apply to anyone claiming coverage; AFIC, however, failed to draft a policy that clearly requires anyone claiming coverage to give timely notice.” We’re very happy that Ann-Margaret’s hard work was able to preserve the additional UM insurance coverage for her client.
Ann-Margaret Perkins is a partner with Perkins Law Firm, L.L.P. practicing personal injury and social security disability, but her claim to fame is being mom to former Southeastern Guide Dogs breeder, Baxter.