Atlanta Injury Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Insurance Coverage

Published on:

photo_5961_20080516Uninsured drivers remain a major problem in the state of Georgia. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Insurance Research Council showed that in 2012 between nine and 11 percent of motorists in Georgia were uninsured. Legal woes that arise from accidents with those who are and become uninsured are at the center of a recent decision from the Court of Appeals of Georgia, Castellanos v. Travelers Home & Marine Insurance Company.

As you might not have expected, both drivers in Castellanos were insured at the time of the accident. The wreck at issue occurred in late September 2009 and was a result of the negligence of the defendant in this case. The plaintiff driver brought suit against the defendant driver and his insurance company, United Automobile Insurance Company, in the State Court of Gwinnett County and served Travelers Insurance, as his uninsured-motorist insurance carrier. United provided legal defense for the defendant, but the defendant did not cooperate in the suit and failed to even attend the trial. Following trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $7,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, and thereafter the plaintiff demanded payment from United. United, however, denied coverage, arguing that the defendant had not cooperated in the case, as was required by the terms of his insurance agreement, and thus United was entitled to deny him coverage.

Continue reading →

Published on:

highway exposureAlthough those seeking insurance coverage are typically prepared to sign a variety of different forms in order to finalize their agreements, very few would expect someone else to unknowingly sign a few more after they are done. However, this peculiar situation is at the heart of the facts of a recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Assaf v. Cincinnati Insurance Company. In Assaf, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a trial’s court grant of summary judgment in favor of an insurance provider when evidence suggested an intermediary insurance agent might have forged certain forms.

Assaf began with a motor vehicle accident on August 10, 2009. On that day, a car being driven by an uninsured motorist struck the plaintiff in this case while he was walking alongside a road. Following the accident, the plaintiff brought a personal injury suit against the uninsured motorist in the State Court of Fulton County and also served his personal uninsured motor vehicle insurer, Cincinnati Insurance Company. Cincinnati answered and asserted a crossclaim against the uninsured motorist. Afterward, the plaintiff amended his complaint to assert a breach of contract claim against Cincinnati, since the insurer now refused to provide the one million dollars in uninsured motorist coverage to which he believed he was entitled.

In 2008, the plaintiff applied to Cincinnati for automobile liability insurance and a personal liability umbrella policy through Little and Smith, Inc., an insurance agency. Cincinnati issued the policy, but this policy did not include excess uninsured motorist insurance coverage, which the plaintiff testified he had requested in a conversation with an agent for Little and Smith. However, the policy terms were consistent with the application that had been submitted to Cincinnati by Little and Smith, since the application included a form purportedly signed by the plaintiff that waived excess uninsured motorist coverage. However, the plaintiff testified that he never initialed or signed that form and contended that his signature must have been forged by the agent from Little and Smith, who had been asked to resign from Little and Smith because, for among other reasons, she had signed another insured’s name to a policy cancellation without the insured’s consent. Despite issues regarding the authenticity of the signature, the trial court nonetheless granted summary judgment to Cincinnati on the breach of contract claim. On appeal, the plaintiff contended that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was in error, since there existed issues of material fact regarding both the authenticity of his signature and whether the Little and Smith employee was functioning as a dual agent under the circumstances. The Court of Appeals agreed.

Continue reading →

Published on:

photo_3959_20071030Although falling from a horse is not among the sources of injury one would typically contemplate if he or she were asked to consider Atlanta-area personal injury litigation, the facts of a recent federal case, Brit UW Limited v. Hallister Property Development, LLC, are unlike those associated with most personal injury actions.

Brit is actually the second lawsuit filed regarding the incident at hand. The first case followed an accident at Goat Farm, a living and workspace community for artists located in Atlanta, where the plaintiff in the first suit, a resident on the property, was paralyzed after being thrown from a horse. The defendant in the original suit is a limited liability corporation that purchased the property in 2008. The corporation is composed of two members who hoped to eventually develop the land into large-scale residential and commercial space. However, at the time of the accident, the majority of the land was underdeveloped and served as a site for both animals and small residential studios and working spaces for artists. One of the two members of the corporation actively manages the property and agreed to have a friend store a horse on Goat Farm. On the day of the horse’s arrival, the property manager and the horse’s owner agreed to let the plaintiff sit on a horse and helped him mount the animal. Although the plaintiff did not expect to ride, the horse jolted after he was mounted and threw the plaintiff into a flagpole, leading to back injuries and paralysis. Following the accident, the plaintiff brought suit in Fulton County State Court, arguing various theories of premises liability and negligence that made the Goat Farm owners liable for his serious injuries. The defendant then requested defense and immunity from its insurance provider, the plaintiff in the second lawsuit. The insurance provider and the defendants reached an impasse in negotiations about obligations pursuant to the insurance agreement, and the insurance provider brought a declaratory action suit against both the defendant and the plaintiff in the original lawsuit in federal court to determine what rights existed under the insurance contract.

Following limited necessary discovery, the insurance provider moved for summary judgment, arguing that the injury was not covered by the terms of the contract, and, even if it was, the members of the corporation failed to provide reasonable notice as required by the insurance agreement. Under Georgia law, an insurance agreement is interpreted using the same rules that apply in standard contract interpretation. SawHorse, Inc. v. S. Guar. Ins. Co. of Georgia, 269 Ga. App. 493, 494-95 (2004). Accordingly, the parties to an insurance agreement are bound by the agreement’s plain and unambiguous terms, but ambiguities are construed against the insurance provider since it is the drafter of the contract. Id. at 494. With respect to this case, two issues needed to be resolved:  whether the insurer had a duty to defend the insured in this action, and whether the insured gave timely notice of the action as required by the agreement.
Continue reading →