Insurance companies are built for profit. Often, even when the company knows it should pay a meritorious claim, it looks to find a way to get out from paying. While many insurance adjusters are good people who want to do the right thing, the corporations they work for, i.e., the insurance companies, give mandates and directives to deny claims whenever and however possible. And so while not all insurance company adjusters are out to take advantage of injured citizens, the insurance company they work for is a business aimed at increasing the bottom-line.
Your insurance policy is much longer than you realize. The insurance policy has clause after clause; definition after definition; and caveat after caveat all designed to give the insurance company the advantage in denying your claim.
What is the “Unlisted Driver” Insurance Exclusion in an Auto Accident Case?
After one automobile collision in Georgia, an insurance company sought a declaratory judgment stating it wasn’t required to cover damages because the at-fault driver wasn’t a listed driver on the policy.
The trial court denied the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment as to one of the injured parties on public policy grounds, reasoning that he had no other avenue by which to recover for his injuries. The trial court granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment with respect to another injured party because he presented no evidence regarding his insurance coverage. Both the other driver and the insurance company appealed from the summary judgment order.
In early September 2020, a woman and her boyfriend moved into the same residence. The woman then applied for auto insurance with the insurance company. The application instructed her to list all household members 15 or older. One of the clauses in the policy warned her that it may not provide coverage for unlisted drivers.
Under the policy:
Insured does not mean any driver who is not listed on the policy who also resides in the same household as you or who is a regular operator of any vehicle insured under this policy and is involved in an accident which occurs while the auto is being driven, operated, manipulated, maintained, serviced, or used in any other manner by that person, regardless of whether or not the named insured is occupying the vehicle at the time the said driver is using it in any manner, whatsoever.
Despite living with her boyfriend, the policyholder didn’t list him in the application. An insurance company representative testified that the woman’s annual premium would have increased by $986 if she’d added her boyfriend to the policy.
On October 9, 2020, the boyfriend, while driving the policy holder’s vehicle with her permission, collided with another car. The other driver and his passenger later claimed damages against the insurance company as a result of the collision.
The insurance company filed a petition for declaratory judgment, seeking a ruling that it wasn’t obligated to provide coverage because the boyfriend wasn’t a listed driver under the policy. The insurance company later filed a motion for summary judgment that the trial court denied with respect to the passenger but granted as to the other driver. The court reasoned that, even though the policy excluded the boyfriend, the passenger had no other avenues for recovery, and thus the exclusion was unenforceable against him on public policy grounds. However, as to the other driver, the court found that he’d presented no evidence regarding his insurance coverage, or lack thereof.
The insurance company argued that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment with respect to the passenger. It contended that public policy doesn’t justify enlarging insurance coverage for a collision caused by an unlisted driver.
The Court of Appeals Decision
“Exclusions are enforceable in insurance policies generally, except when public policy mandates otherwise”, Presiding Judge Sara Doyle of the Georgia Court of Appeals wrote, quoting a 2010 decision. “An insurer may reject coverage for a person expressly excluded from its policy. Provided that the exclusion agreement is supported by consideration between the parties, the exclusion is enforceable.” Here, the insurance policy said the premiums were consideration for insurance coverage. Moreover, an insurance company representative stated that coverage for the boyfriend would have resulted in increased premiums. Thus, absent a public policy exception, the exclusion was enforceable, the judge held.
Judge Doyle wrote that the Supreme Court of Georgia has recognized that public policy may render certain exclusions unenforceable. The Court relied on Georgia’s compulsory insurance scheme, which requires owners of automobiles to maintain insurance at certain minimum levels. The Court noted that “liability insurance [is] required by law not only for the benefit of the insured but to ensure compensation for innocent victims of negligent motorists,” she said. The Supreme Court further recognized that “our compulsory insurance law established the public policy that innocent persons who are injured should have an adequate recourse for the recovery of their damages[.]”
While noting that courts should be cautious in declaring contract provisions void as against public policy, Judge Doyle said that the Supreme Court of Georgia set forth three public interests a court should consider in determining whether an insurance provision contravenes public policy:
- As insureds, to limit the insurer’s risks and thereby keep automobile insurance premiums as low as possible;
- As members of the public in general to improve safety on the highways; and
- As accident victims, to have access to insurance funds to satisfy their judgments.
Each type of insurance exclusion must be evaluated individually, Judge Doyle opined.
The judge went on to explain that the Court of Appeals has followed the Supreme Court’s charge to interpret exclusions on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the exclusions were void for public policy reasons. Typically, this analysis has turned on whether the injured innocent party had access to other insurance. However, in some cases, the Court of Appeals has enforced exclusions against innocent injured parties even where the injured party didn’t have access to other insurance.
Here, the Court of Appeals—after considering that courts should only declare a contract provision void for public policy reasons in cases free from doubt—concluded that the unlisted driver exclusion in this case wasn’t void, regardless of the passenger’s access to other insurance. The boyfriend wasn’t the named insured and was never covered under the policy. Moreover, the exclusion didn’t attempt to exclude coverage based on the particulars of how the accident occurred or based on the boyfriend’s driving; it simply removed him completely from the category of insured. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment with respect to the passenger.
In summary, the Court of Appeals held that the unlisted driver exclusion in this case was not void for public policy reasons, regardless of the injured parties’ access to other insurance. The Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment with respect to the other driver, and reversed the trial court’s denial of the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment with respect to the passenger. Kindley v. First Acceptance Ins. Co. of Ga., 2023 Ga. App. LEXIS 289 *; 2023 WL 4069572 (Ga. App. June 20, 2023).
Questions on Auto Insurance Coverage After an Accident?
Insurance coverage for other drivers and passengers of your vehicle can be tricky. What isn’t tricky is knowing the insurance company will use every play in the playbook to deny a claim.
If you have any questions about an accident in which you were involved, contact an experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer Atlanta residents trust. Our lawyers and staff at Tobin Injury Law are ready to help answer your questions and guide you through the litigation process.