Court of Appeals Affirms Policyholder’s Rejection of UMBI Coverage

The Second Circuit Court of Appeal recently affirmed the rejection of Uninsured Motorist coverage from his mother’s automobile insurance, effectively denying him that kind of coverage for an accident where he was hit by another driver.
21-year-old Michael Tillman was driving his 1995 Dodge Ram pickup truck when he was struck from behind by Tommy Pritchard in 2008. Prichtard’s insurance company paid its policy limits to Tillman, who then sought more recovery from his mother’s insurance company, USAgencies. Paris carter, Tillman’s mother, had a policy in effect at the time of the accident and added the Dodge Ram to the policy shortly before Tillman’s accident.

However, before Carter added the Dodge Ram to her policy, she had rejected Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury (“UMBI”) coverage when she completed an application for the policy. The policy to which she sought to add her son’s pickup truck did not include UMBI coverage and the truck would also not include that coverage. Tillman, however, argued that the insurance agent should have issued a new policy covering his truck because the agent was given the pickup’s title, which listed Tillman as the owner, and that she knew he did not live with his mother; he also argued that Carter could not effectively reject UMBI coverage for him without his written consent.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the case summarily because there was no factual issue as to whether Carter rejected UMBI coverage for the Dodge Ram in her policy with USAgencies. The policy document, which Carter signed to reject UMBI coverage, explained that her choice to do so applied both to vehicles described in the policy at that time and to “. . .all reinstatement or substitute policies until [she] make[s] a written request for a change in [her] Bodily Injury Liability Coverage or UMBI Coverage.”

Moreover, the Louisiana legislature has passed statutes which announce that “[a]ny changes to an existing policy, regardless of whether these changes create new coverage, except changes in the limits of liability, do not create a new policy and do not require the completion of new uninsured motorist selection forms.” The Court rejected Tillman’s argument that Carter’s rejection of UMBI coverage might be invalid, citing the rebuttable presumption that Carter’s signed completion of the insurance form means that she knowingly rejected it. The Court reasons that the law is clear: one who signs a document is presumed to have done so with knowledge of its contents, regardless of whether they actually read it.

Further, the Court holds that the insurance agent had no onus to write a separate policy for the Dodge Ram when Carter did not request or direct the agent to obtain. The Court cites the principle that it is the client’s duty to determine the coverage needed, advise the agent of those needs, and to review the policy to determine whether it meets their needs. Lastly, the Court rejects Tillman’s argument that his mother, Paris Carter, could not reject UMBI coverage for him without his written consent. In addressing the authority he cites, the Court clarifies that the rejection requires only the written consent of the policyholder when such a rejection is executed on his behalf.

Though it’s a tough rule, it is important to read the documents you sign, especially when it comes to insurance coverage. Like many people, Ms. Carter might have signed rejection of the UMBI coverage in order to lower her insurance premium. In doing so, she allowed USAgencies to disclaim coverage for injuries sustained by uninsured motorists. However, if you’ve been injured in an automobile accident, you should seek out legal representation to fish out your best interest from these often complicated insurance provisions.

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