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Appeals Court Finds Auto Insurance Waiver Inadequate

In a June 11 decision, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s judgment in favor of an auto insurer that sought to deny uninsured motorist coverage to an insured accident victim. The appeals court addressed the conditions by which an insurer may apply a “named driver exclusion” clause. The trial court said such a clause could be enforced in this case, but the appeals court disagreed.

Roberson v. 21st Century National Insurance Company

The case arose from a 2009 automobile accident. The plaintiff was driving his police cruiser in Macon when another vehicle struck him. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver and owner of the other vehicle. He also served his wife’s insurance company because she had a personal automobile policy that included uninsured motorist coverage.

The insurance company objected on the grounds the policy included a “Named Driver Exclusion Endorsement” that identified the plaintiff as an “excluded driver.” The insurance company argued this absolved it of any liability for providing uninsured motorist coverage. The trial court agreed and granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment.

The plaintiff appealed. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment. Presiding Judge Gary Blaylock Andrews, writing for the panel, said the Named Driver Exclusion Endorsement did not comply with Georgia law governing uninsured motorist coverage. The law requires such coverage unless the insured expressly rejects it in writing. In this case, Judge Andrews said, the policy did not contain such a rejection of coverage for the plaintiff. The endorsement only spoke in general terms and referred to the plaintiff’s wife as the policyholder. Georgia law requires a more specific and unambiguous rejection of uninsured motorist coverage.

This does not mean driver exclusions are never enforceable in Georgia. Judge Andrews noted the Court of Appeals previously upheld such an exclusion in cases where the insured and the excluded driver both signed express rejections of coverage. The key is that there must be a written rejection of uninsured motorist coverage. The insurance company cannot simply slip in language that purports to broadly reject such coverage.

Insurance is a type of contract, of course, and here the insurance company argued the exclusion should be enforced as simply part of that contract. Again, Judge Andrews explained that Georgia law imposes a specific duty on insurance companies that may only be waived under very specific circumstances. “The flaw comes not from what [the plaintiff’s wife] bargained for, but from the fact that the policy purports to provide the coverage she bargained for without including a written rejection as required by” Georgia statute.