The Georgia legislature has codified minimum requirements for motor vehicle liability insurance policies under O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11. Any automobile liability policy in this state must have not less than $25,000.00 dollars because of bodily injury to or death of one person in any one incident or $50,000.00 dollars because of bodily injury to or death of two or more persons in any one occurrence. In current economic times, $25,000.00 dollars is nowhere near enough insurance coverage for someone who is seriously injured in an automobile collision. Even minor collisions alone result in hospital visits for diagnostic testing and can result in more than $25,000.00 dollars in medical bills. This is not to mention that many injuries will put people out of work for some time, causing them to have a claim for lost wages. —
It is very important due to the minimum required policy limits in this state that people have what is referred to as “uninsured” or sometimes “underinsured” motorist protection on their automobile insurance policy. While it is true that everyone should carry uninsured motorist protection, it is these types of policies that are the most unfair to insureds in the State of Georgia.
Until 2009, the secret of the insurance industry was that even if an insured paid for $25,000.00 dollars in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, they were only entitled to tap into that $25,000.00 dollars if the person that caused the collision in which they were injured had less than $25,000.00 dollars insurance coverage. In other words, if the person that hit you had $50,000.00 in insurance coverage and you had $25,000.00 in uninsured/underinsured insurance coverage, you would not be allowed to any portion of your $25,000.00 policy. This would be true even if your damages were in the many hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Finally, in 2008 the Georgia General Assembly, over and against the wishes of the powerful insurance lobby, decided to let the cat out of the bag and fix this dirty little secret. The new statute would read that everyone was entitled to their entire uninsured/underinsured motorist protection limits so long as their damages called for it. The insurance industry refers to this right to tap into your own insurance coverage as “added on uninsured motorist protection.” The new statute still allows insurance companies to wiggle out of honoring uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage so long as they have the insured execute an “opt-out” or “rejection” of the right to utilize the entire amount of the uninsured motorist protection limits. Never sign an “opt-out” of added on coverage document from your insurance carrier.
Another secret of the automobile insurance industry in the State of Georgia is that when you make a claim on your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, your insurance company hires lawyers to represent the person that caused the collision that hurt you and will try to defeat your claim to any of your own insurance. If the insurance company defends the person that caused your injuries in bad faith and you ultimately recover the entire amount of your uninsured/underinsured insurance limits, the penalties that await your insurance company are merely a slap on the wrist.
If your own insurance carrier evaluating your claim to uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage drags you through two years of litigation, then no matter what a jury awards you, you can only potentially recover a bad faith penalty of 25% of the limits of your uninsured/underinsured motorist protection and reasonable attorney’s fees. Should you get to that point and finally have a jury award you the limits of your uninsured/underinsured motorist protection, your insurance company will not voluntarily pay the penalty. They instead, fight and defend the second lawsuit that you must bring against the insurance company directly in order to prove they were acting in “bad faith.”
Another pitfall of uninsured automobile insurance in Georgia is that most folks don’t realize that you cannot say the word insurance or indirectly refer to the concept of insurance in any way at a personal injury trial seeking insurance proceeds. Georgia law allows insurance defense lawyers to defend their case in part by hoping that people on your jury will assume that you are suing the person that caused your injuries individually, creating guilt that should they award what is just and right they could financially ruin the person that was negligent.
A lot of insurance companies are putting in their policies that failure to file a claim and “formally” notify them within a reasonable time after an accident of your potential need to tap into your own uninsured/underinsured coverage will result in no coverage at all. I am seeing more and more large automobile insurance companies in Georgia completely refuse to honor any uninsured/underinsured claim by their customer when their customer fails to “formally” put them on notice of a potential claim within what they consider a reasonable time after the collision. The courts have little or no power to do anything other than side with the insurance companies based upon basic contract principles.
I hope this opens your eyes to many of the pitfalls that face Georgia consumers in making an uninsured / underinsured motorist claim on their own automobile insurance.
About Windham Law:
Ben F. Windham P.C. personal injury attorneys serves clients throughout Henry County and the greater Atlanta area, including McDonough, Stockbridge, Hampton, Ellenwood, and Locust Grove. They specialize in seeking justice for individuals who have been injured by the negligence of others and litigate against all insurance companies providing tenacious and honest representation. Their approach is hands-on and much different from the high-volume TV and billboard lawyers. Clients of Ben F. Windham, P.C. work directly with an attorney during all phases of their case. At Ben F. Windham, P.C. expect a collaborative team with an entrepreneurial mindset determined to meet and exceed their client’s expectations each step of the way towards obtaining justice.
To learn more about Ben F. Windham P.C. Trial Attorneys, or for a free case evaluation please visit https://windhamlaw.com or call 833-236-9467.
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