Under Louisiana law, all automobile liability policies include uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (“UM coverage”) unless the insured affirmatively rejects such coverage, selects lower limits, or selects economic only coverage in writing. The question of what qualifies as a valid rejection of UM coverage has been debated in numerous lawsuits across the state. In Barbera v. Andrade, examination of this issue continued, and the court ruled that an initial rejection of UM coverage remains effective until changed by the insured’s written request.
In Barbera, the court examined whether UM coverage was triggered under a policy when the insured, who previously waived coverage, failed to respond to the insurer’s request to complete a new UM waiver form. It was undisputed that the insured executed a valid waiver of UM coverage in 2001. In 2014, the insurer sent the insured a letter that asked the insured to complete an updated coverage selection form and return it to the insurer’s office. The insured did not execute the updated form. A driver insured under the policy was involved in a motor vehicle accident in 2017 and filed a claim for UM benefits.
The insured argued the letter sent with the waiver form in 2014 was ambiguous and could be read to mean that failure to respond would mean that UM coverage would be read into the policy by default. Evidence also showed that some of the insurer’s employees also thought the failure to respond with the updated form would result in UM coverage.
However, La. R.S. 22:1295(1)(a)(ii) provides, “An insured may change the original uninsured motorist selection or rejection on a policy at any time during the life of the policy by submitting a new uninsured motorist selection form to the insurer on the form prescribed by the commissioner of insurance.” Thus, the Court ruled that the insured’s initial rejection of UM coverage could only be changed via written request by submitting a waiver form to the insurer. The intent of the parties was inconsequential.
Because the insured executed a valid UM waiver in 2001, it remained part of the existing policy. No event, such as a change in the policy’s liability limits, occurred that required the execution of a new UM selection waiver form, and the insured did not submit a new form to the insurer to obtain UM coverage. Therefore, UM coverage was not afforded under the policy, and summary judgment was affirmed in favor of the insurer.
Case Reference: Barbera v. Andrade, 22-147 (La. App. 5 Cir. 11/30/22), 2022 WL 1733087, — So.3d —.