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Waiting to Notify Your Insurance Company About an Accident can Come Back to Haunt You

Dealing with an insurance company following a car accident can be a major hassle. As a result, some accident victims simply put it off. This is almost always a mistake. It is not simply a good idea to notify your insurer of your accident in a timely manner. In many cases, you can be denied coverage when you later file a claim.

Sharpe v. Great Midwest Insurance Company

Here is a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision that illustrates how unforgiving judges can be when it comes to enforcing notification requirements. This case arises from a 2013 truck accident in Statesboro. The plaintiff was driving a vehicle owned by his employer when he was rear-ended by another vehicle. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff sustained a serious neck injury.

The plaintiff sued the other driver for negligence. But, believing the driver lacked sufficient insurance to pay for the damages, the plaintiff also served his insurance carrier, as well as his employer’s insurer. Both of these insurers provided uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage applicable to the plaintiff.

The insurers argued they were not required to cover the accident, however, due to the plaintiff’s failure to either properly serve them with the lawsuit or notify them of the accident in accordance with the policy terms. The courts agreed with the insurance companies.

With respect to the employer’s insurance company, the Court of Appeals said the plaintiff failed to properly serve his lawsuit. “Service” includes not just providing a party with a copy of the complaint, which the plaintiff did, but also a summons directing the party to file an answer, which the plaintiff did not do. Without service, the Court of Appeals noted, the trial court cannot legally acquire jurisdiction over the party.

As to the plaintiff’s own uninsured motorist carrier, the Court of Appeals said he failed to comply with the policy’s notice requirements. While some policies only require “timely” notice, the policy here expressly stated that notice must be given “in no event later than 80 days from the date of the accident.” The plaintiff did not notify the insurer until six months later, the appeals court said, which clearly failed to comply with the 90-day requirement.

In his defense, the plaintiff said the delay was justified because he did not immediately realize he needed to inform his insurance company. He initially assumed that his own employer’s insurer would cover any damages since he was driving a company vehicle. The Court of Appeals said, “This is excuse is a nonstarter.”

Unfortunately for the plaintiff, he also failed to comply with the accident notification requirement of the employer’s insurance policy. That policy had a 30-day notice requirement. The plaintiff did not formally notify the employer’s insurer of the accident until he actually (and improperly) served his lawsuit on it approximately 15 months later. Once again, the court did not accept the plaintiff’s purported ignorance of the policy terms as a valid excuse.