Tag: uninsured motorist coverage

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.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage: Making Smart People Feel Dumb

I have met smart, sophisticated “business” people whose eyes glass over when they try to explain their understanding of “UM” coverage. The picture becomes murkier when discussing “economic-only UM,” a form of UM coverage many people purchase without even knowing it. Through many years and conversations, I have come to conclude that there is a general fogginess that obscures this entire subject with many, if not most, people. This blog is an effort to improve understanding on the subject.

What is “UM” Coverage?

“UM” signifies “uninsured motorist” insurance coverage, but is more properly described as “uninsured/underinsured” motorist coverage. A person, family, business, or group purchases UM coverage to respond to damages caused in an accident by someone who has either no insurance or not enough to cover the loss. You purchase UM insurance to protect yourself or those connected to you. Without UM, you are gambling that the person who caused the accident (the “tortfeasor”) will have insurance coverage, and enough coverage, to respond to the injuries and damages they have caused.

Why UM?

This question is simply answered in a two-part response:

#1- The roads are dangerous

Unless you are a crop duster or an undercover agent, the most dangerous thing you will likely do on any given day is to drive on a public road, even more so in the age of “smartphones” and distracted-driving.

#2- Many drivers lack sufficient liability coverage- 

An unhealthy portion of drivers have either no insurance on insufficient insurance coverage to address an accident involving severe injuries or damages. The State of Louisiana requires motorists to obtain at least the minimum insurance of $15,000 “per person,” $30,000 “per accident,” and $25,000 to address property damage. If you do not purchase UM, you are trusting that these limits will be enough, as they might be in a minor accident. But what if the injuries are severe or you have multiple passengers in your car, van, or suburban?

Often, the same people who reject UM, will buy “collision” coverage on their car to make sure they are not left paying for a car note after the car is destroyed in an accident. In this limited way, you can think of UM insurance as collision coverage on you, your family, passengers, or employees.

While perfect statistics are not available, many drivers on the road have no insurance. Frequently, drivers will obtain minimum limits insurance through a “premium finance” arrangement, but will have stopped paying the premiums (thereby losing coverage) by the time of an accident.

What is “Economic-Only” UM?

In Louisiana, UM coverage will be afforded to you unless you “waive” the coverage under La. R.S. 22:1295. Louisiana residents are presented with a form that allows them to waive or select UM coverage. They are also allowed to select “economic-only” UM. People often choose this option because it is cheaper, but economic-only UM coverage will only pay for economic damages such as lost wages, medical bills, funeral costs, and other monetary damages. Economic-only UM will not pay money to compensate for pain and suffering/mental anguish, scarring and disfigurement, or other non-economic damages.

FAQS      

  • Can UM protect me from a hit-and-run driver? Yes.
  • What if another driver’s negligence caused the accident, but there was no physical contact with that driver’s vehicle and they fled? In this scenario, UM may be available under La. R.S. 22:1295(1)(f); however, you will need to identify an “independent and disinterested witness” to establish the actions of the unidentified driver.
  • Will UM protect me if I am at fault in an accident? No. The law would consider that a “moral hazard” and invite unscrupulous individuals to cause an accident in hopes of recovering under the policy they purchased.
  • Will UM protect me if I am a pedestrian? It may, depending upon the terms of your insurance policy.
  • What if an object falls from a vehicle and causes an accident? UM may be available in this circumstance. The ultimate answer may depend upon whether the “falling object” had come to rest before the accident. Rener v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 99-1703 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/05/2000), 759 So.2d 214, 215.

CONCLUSION

Rational people may decide to reject UM to save money; and this decision may be the right one if they have health insurance, short-term disability, long-term disability, or others such protections. However, people often make such decisions with less than full information. Hopefully, you will make the smart choice.