Atlanta Injury Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Uninsured Motorist

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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.

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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.

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