Ga. Court of Appeals Rules for Insurance Company in UM Coverage Dispute Arising from 2015 Auto Accident

Georgia law requires auto insurance companies to offer “uninsured motorist” (UM) coverage with every new policy. As you probably know, UM coverage provides you with benefits if you are injured by an unknown driver in a “hit and run” accident, or by a known driver who simply lacks sufficient insurance to compensate you for your injuries. By default, your insurer must offer minimum UM coverage of $25,000 per person (or $50,000 per accident), or the level of standard liability coverage, whichever is higher at the time.

You are, of course, free to reject UM coverage when you purchase your insurance policy. The insurance company is required to get this rejection in writing. Once you reject UM coverage, keep in mind the insurer is not required to get a new rejection each year when you renew the policy. In other words, once you reject UM coverage, that rejection may remain in force as long as you keep that same policy.

Hunter v. Progressive Mountain Insurance Company

What if you make changes to an existing policy? Does the insurer have to re-offer UM coverage at that point? A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Hunter v. Progressive Mountain Insurance Company addressed this subject. The plaintiffs in this case are a husband and wife who purchased an auto insurance policy from Progressive in 2010. They renewed the policy each year. In 2012, they asked for an increase in their standard coverage limits. Progressive did not offer, nor did the plaintiffs request, an increase in any UM coverage.

In 2015, the wife sustained injuries in an auto accident. The other driver admitted fault land settled for the limits of their own insurance policy, which was not enough to cover the wife’s medical bills. She therefore sought UM benefits from Progressive.

Progressive claimed the husband signed a waiver of UM coverage, which the plaintiffs disputed. But the question before the Court of Appeals related to a narrower issue: Was Progressive obligated to offer an increase in UM coverage when the plaintiffs decided to raise their liability limits in 2012?

The Court of Appeals said the answer to that question was “no.” For one thing, the plaintiffs never expressly requested such additional coverage. And in any event, the law only required Progressive to offer UM coverage at the time the policy was created and issued, not when it was renewed. The fact the plaintiffs increased their limits on an existing policy did not create a new policy. And there is “nothing in the statute requiring Progressive to re-offer the statutory minimum UM coverage based on a change to an already existing policy.”

The Court of Appeals was careful to explain that based on its understanding of the case, the plaintiffs “elected to decouple the amount of UM coverage from the amount of standard liability coverage.” That is, there was no reason for Progressive to treat a request to increase the standard coverage as also requesting an increase in UM coverage. While it might have been “good business policy” for Progressive to have offered an increase in UM coverage, the Court of Appeals said it was not legally required to do so.