Can a victim recover benefits from Progressive Insurance Company if he waits a year to put the carrier on notice? If he had a good Georgia personal injury lawyer, then maybe he could!
After an accident, the number one thing you have to do is seek medical care. Without a doubt, medical care is the most important thing you can do for yourself. However, insurance policies are written as contracts. One of the terms of insurance policies, in particular with uninsured motorist policies, is you must give your insurance company notice of the claim.
In a recent case decided by the Georgia Court of Appeals, a delay of one year and one day in notifying his own insurance company of injuries he suffered in an automobile accident was deemed unreasonable as a matter of law. Unfortunately for the victim, as there was no evidence that the victim’s ignorance of the terms of the subject insurance policy was due to any fraud or overreaching on the part of the insurer or its agents, the Court said he waited too long to notify his insurance company.
The Georgia Court of Appeals said that the law required more than just ignorance, or even misplaced confidence, to avoid the terms of a valid contract and, given the particular circumstances, the trial court did not err in ruling that the claimant’s delay in giving notice of his accident to was unjustified and unreasonable as a matter of law.
Here, the plaintiff sued for injuries he suffered as a result of an automobile accident. His lawyers also served the complaint on Progressive Insurance–the plaintiff’s own insurance–seeking uninsured motorist coverage on the grounds that his sister’s policy with Progressive covered him because he resided with her. This is known by a good Atlanta personal injury lawyer as “resident relative” insurance. Progressive moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, the plaintiff argued the trial court erred in ruling that his failure to notify the insurance company of the accident until a year after it occurred was unreasonable and unjustifiable as a matter of law.
The accident itself
On January 26, 2019, the plaintiff suffered injuries when his vehicle was struck by another vehicle whose driver was insured by State Farm Insurance Company. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff resided at the home of his sister, who held an automobile insurance policy with Progressive. That policy didn’t identify the plaintiff as a named insured, an additional driver, or indicate that the plaintiff’s vehicle was insured.
Moreover, the policy stated “[f]or coverage to apply under this policy, you or the person seeking coverage must promptly report each accident or loss even if you or the person seeking coverage is not at fault.“
On January 27, 2020, the plaintiff discovered that his sister’s policy, nonetheless, might afford him coverage as a resident relative. As a result, on that same date, the plaintiff’s counsel provided Progressive with notice of his client’s automobile accident. On January 22, 2021, the plaintiff filed suit against the other driver, and several days later, he served a copy of the complaint on Progressive. Progressive subsequently, filed a motion for summary judgment.
Progressive argued it had no duty to provide coverage because the sister’s policy required accidents to be reported promptly, and the plaintiff’s failure to provide notice of his accident until a year and a day after it occurred was unreasonable.
The plaintiff filed a response, and the trial court initially issued an order denying summary judgment dismissing the case. But less than one week later, the court vacated that order, and several months later, it issued an order granting Progressive summary judgment. This appeal followed.
The Plaintiff’s Position
The plaintiff argued the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Progressive on the ground that his failure to notify the insurer of the accident until a year after it occurred was unreasonable as a matter of law, and that his excuse for the delay in providing the notice was unjustifiable.
Presiding Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard wrote that under Georgia law, whether an insured provides “an insurer timely notice of an event or occurrence under a policy generally is a question for the factfinder.” Indeed, an insured may be able to “present justification for delay in giving notice, and whether that justification was sufficient is generally a fact-based inquiry for a jury.” But importantly, the facts and circumstances of a particular case “may render an insured’s delay in giving notice of an occurrence to his insurer unjustified and unreasonable as a matter of law.”
Promptly report each accident
Judge Dillard found that the sister’s Progressive policy required “the person seeking coverage” to “promptly report each accident.” And in such cases, “in which a policy’s notice provision gives no specific time frame, there is no bright-line rule on how much delay is too much.”
As a result, the plaintiff argued his delay of a year and a day before notifying Progressive of his accident was justified because he didn’t realize until then that his sister’s policy might also afford him coverage as a resident relative.
However, Judge Dillard opined that while the Court of Appeals has previously held that the question of whether a delay approaching one year was justified presents a question for a jury, the plaintiff’s justification for the delay in this matter was unreasonable as a matter of law.
Specifically, there was no evidence—indeed, not even an assertion—that the plaintiff’s “ignorance of the terms of the subject insurance policy was due to any fraud or overreaching on the part of the insurer or its agents.”
The law requires more than “just ignorance, or even misplaced confidence, to avoid the terms of a valid contract.” Given these particular circumstances, the trial court didn’t err in ruling that the plaintiff’s delay in giving notice of his accident to Progressive was unjustified and unreasonable as a matter of law. This was the case of Owens v. Progressive Premier Ins. Co., 2022 Ga. App. LEXIS 425 (Ga. App. September 1, 2022).
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