Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (“UM coverage”) is included in all automobile liability policies by Louisiana law unless the insured “rejects [UM] coverage, selects lower limits, or selects economic only coverage.” What constitutes an adequate rejection of UM coverage has been the crux of countless lawsuits across the state. Recently, in Havard v. Jeanlouis, et al, 2021-C-00810 (La. 6/29/22), the Louisiana Supreme Court examined the validity of a corporate representative’s signature in the context of execution of a UM waiver form. Louisiana courts have found that without a valid signature, UM coverage generally may not be waived.
The Havard court recognized that a corporation cannot “sign” its own name, and that an authorized representative must act on its behalf. Under the facts of this case, an administrative assistant attempted to execute a UM waiver form at the corporate representative’s direction with a stamp of the representative’s signature. The plaintiff argued that the use of the stamp did not meet the requirements for proper execution of the UM waiver form at issue.
Considering these facts, the court noted that Louisiana law of mandate provides that “when the law prescribes a certain form for an act, a mandate authorizing the act must be in that form.” The court continued: “Accordingly, where one individual signs a UM form on behalf of another individual and authority is not conferred by law, our Civil Code requires this authority be in writing.”
While the corporate representative in Havard verbally instructed his administrative assistant to complete the waiver with his signature stamp, no written mandate existed between the representative and the assistant to confirm this authority. Absent the written mandate, the court disregarded the express intention of the corporate representative and held the form invalid.
The court recognized the impracticality of its holding. However, it also commented “Concerns over the practical impact within the insurance industry in scrutinizing stamped signed UM forms are unavailing. Inconvenience is not absurdity. The insurer has the authority, opportunity, and responsibility to assure the UM form is completed properly. … Practical considerations regarding increased due diligence requirements are matters of policy best directed to the legislature.”
Cases involving UM waiver forms are fact-sensitive. Havard involved unique facts where the company’s authorized agent did not sign the UM waiver form personally. While Havard may be limited to its facts, it reminds that proper execution of a UM waiver form is necessary for UM coverage to be properly waived.
Louisiana Supreme Court Provides Updated Guidance on Execution of UM Waiver Forms
Under Louisiana law, uninsured/underinsured insurance coverage is implied in any automobile policy of insurance, and UM coverage will be read into the policy unless it is validly rejected. This rejection of UM coverage must be “clear and unmistakable.” The Louisiana Supreme Court recently addressed the issue of what qualifies as a valid rejection of UM coverage in Baack v. McIntosh, 2021-01054 (La. 6/30/21), — So.3d —.
The Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance provides a form which must be completed to reject UM coverage. This form allows the insured to initial one of four selections regarding UM coverage: (1) UM coverage at lower limits than liability coverage; (2) economic-only coverage with same limits; (3) economic-only UM coverage at lower limits; or (4) no UM coverage. A representative of the insured must initial one of these options for that option to apply to the policy at issue. This list does not include an option to select UM coverage. Therefore, the Baack Court held that “the only way to ‘select’ UM coverage on the form is to not initial any of the provided choices.”
The insured in Baack properly rejected UM coverage through the UM form in 2002. A proper rejection of UM coverage remains valid for the life of the policy, and a new form is not required when a policy is renewed. However, the Court found that, under La. R.S. 22:1295, an insured may change its rejection of UM coverage at any time by submitting a new UM form to the insurer.
In 2011, the insured increased its liability limits under the policy, which required completion of a new form. UM coverage again was properly rejected. Even though not legally required, the insurer sent new UM waiver forms to the insured in 2012, 2013, and 2014 when the policy was renewed. However, the insured completed each of these forms without initialing any of the four selections related to UM coverage. The insurer later issued the insurance policies without objection. The court found that the insured changed its rejection of UM coverage when it submitted the new forms in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Because the insurer did not initial these forms when they were resubmitted, the insured “selected” UM coverage under Baack’s analysis, and UM coverage was afforded under the policy. Importantly, the Court held that, if the insurer believed the failure to make a selection on the forms was a mistake, it was the insurer’s responsibility to follow-up with the insured to make any necessary corrections. Three justices dissented and argued that the majority opinion negates other law which provides that an insured must make a “written request” to add UM on a policy where UM is rejected. UM cases are often fact-intensive and each case should therefore be assessed under their own specific facts.