If you drive a motor vehicle in Florida, chances are that when you arranged for auto insurance, as required by law, your policy came standard with uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage (also sometimes referred to by acronym UM/UIM coverage). As Palm Beach car accident lawyers know, Florida law requires all insurance polices that provide bodily injury liability coverage to also provide UM/ UIM coverage – unless one has supplemental coverage that already provides it OR the insured supplies his or her written rejection of the coverage on behalf of all insureds under the policy. Anyone leasing a car for longer than a year has the sole privilege to either reject UM/UIM coverage or to lower the limits.
Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage will help cover your injury losses if those at-fault have no insurance at all, or in the case of a hit-and-run crash. Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is defined as a crash scenario wherein the at-fault driver is insured according to statutory minimum levels (notoriously low in Florida) but insufficiently to pay the injured person’s losses.
While more drivers have UM/UIM coverage than not, that doesn’t mean getting the auto insurance company to pay up is easy. Palm Beach car accident attorneys know the reality is all insurance companies are loyal their bottom line – not you, not matter how long you’ve been a faithful customer. This is why having an experienced car accident lawyer working with you from the start when you file your claim is important.
As outlined in F.S. 627.727, order to prevail in a UM/UIM claim, you must not only prove that you have coverage, but that the other driver(s) were negligent and liable for your injuries, that your injuries were serious enough to meet the “serious injury threshold” to step outside of the state’s no-fault system and that the at-fault driver(s) lacked adequate auto insurance to adequately cover your crash-related damages.
Hiring an injury lawyer with a track record of success in car accident settlement negotiations and in the courtroom is imperative.
FL 3rd DCA Calls for New Trial on Whether Plaintiff Made Knowing, Written Rejection of UM/UIM
Recently, our Palm Beach car accident attorneys learned of a decision by Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal concerning a dispute over whether a customer knowingly made a written rejection of uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage.
According to the (south) FL 3rd DCA opinion in GEICO v. Perez, plaintiff in the car accident lawsuit had suffered serious injuries as a result of negligence by an underinsured motorist. (Underinsured, by the way, can mean the driver was insured at least according to statutory minimum levels – notoriously low in Florida – but lacking sufficient coverage to fully pay the injured person’s losses.)
Here, the facts of the case go back to the spring of 2013, when plaintiff called the auto insurer and spoke with a sales representative about purchasing auto insurance for three owned vehicles. At that time, plaintiff had a motorcycle policy with the same company – which included $10,000 in UM coverage – but his other vehicles were insured by a different carrier. That call wasn’t recorded and the sales rep doesn’t specifically recall it, but did testify normal practice was to explain and recommend UM/UIM coverage. The customer has to inform the insurer whether they wish to reject or buy the coverage. If they reject it, the customer is told he or she must sign a form specifically rejecting it, or else the company unilaterally applies it to the policy.
Electronic Signature on UM/UIM Rejection Form
But plaintiff said the sales rep never talked to him about UM/UIM coverage. The rep mailed an electronic form to plaintiff’s his wife’s email address, and supplied a secure personal ID number generated by the insurer.
That evening, the email was forwarded from plaintiff’s wife’s account to their daughter’s account, and using the unique PIN, two security questions were answered and UM/ UIM coverage for that auto insurance policy was rejected via electronic signature. The review and sign page did have a blue hyperlink to an already-completed UM form rejecting coverage; however, that link was never opened. The coverage summary was viewed and then forwarded to plaintiff’s wife’s email. The following day, the insurer mailed the policy to plaintiff, reflecting $50,000 of coverage on each of his three insured vehicles – but no UM/UIM coverage. Everyone agrees plaintiff never paid for UM/UIM coverage, and he later renewed the policy under the same terms.
Then in late 2013, plaintiff was severely injured in a motorcycle accident wherein he was struck by a Jeep driven by an underinsured driver. His own insurer offered him the full $10,000 limit of UIM coverage on his motorcycle, but he sought stacked UIM coverage of $150,000. Insurer denied coverage on grounds plaintiff didn’t have UIM coverage, and plaintiffs sued the Jeep driver and the insurer.
Part of plaintiff’s argument was that the insurer’s online process for rejection of UM/UIM coverage doesn’t comply with state statute and therefore should be invalid.
Trial court agreed, granting plaintiff’s cross motion to summary judgment by finding the insurer’s online process pertaining to rejecting UM/UIM coverage in violation of Florida law and denying the insurer’s motions for summary judgment. The case went to trial, bifurcated into two questions: Did plaintiff give knowing, oral consent to UM/UIM coverage? If so, for how much should the underinsured driver (and in turn, the UIM carrier) be liable? Prior to trial, the court granted a motion from plaintiff to exclude the electronically-signed UM rejection form, as well as other evidence. Ultimately, plaintiff won, with jurors finding underinsured driver was 100 percent at-fault and awarding plaintiff $1.7 million in damages, entering a final judgment against insurer for $150,000, plus $32,000 in taxable costs.
On appeal, the auto insurer’s argument that the lower court should have granted its pre-trial motions for summary judgment, appellate court said: No. However, justices did rule evidence was improperly excluded during trial, and thus a new one was ordered.
Bottom line: UM/UIM coverage is strongly advised in Florida, and those shopping around for new auto insurance policies should carefully read each provision, and ensure they haven’t accidentally signed away this important coverage.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
GEICO v. Perez, Sept. 20, 2018, Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Personal Injury Compensation Guidelines in Florida Hired Driver Accidents, Oct. 25, 2018, Palm Beach Car Accident Attorney Blog