Automobile insurance claims are complex enough, as it is unlikely that all parties involved will immediately agree on a settlement amount. These claims become even more convoluted when there are questions as to what state law should apply or when the insured isn’t fully aware of what his policy entails. Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened when a man was involved in an accident in New Orleans.
Jones was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Orleans Parish, and the other driver, insured by Allstate, was found to be at fault. Jones settled with Allstate and then attempted to recover under his own uninsured/underinsured motorist claim from GEICO. GEICO denied his claim stating that Jones was in direct violation of his Georgia-issued policy and statutory law when he failed to obtain GEICO’s approval before settling with and releasing Allstate.
Jones then brought a claim against GEICO, where he, in part, filed a motion for summary judgment seeking a judicial determination that Louisiana law applied, not Georgia’s. The Civil District Court of Orleans Parish granted Jones’ partial summary judgment claim and found that Louisiana law applied. GEICO then appealed the Trial Court’s ruling to the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, where the issue focused on whether the Trial Court correctly granted Jones’ motion for partial summary judgment.
Jones alleged GEICO acted in bad faith when it failed to pay for his uninsured/underinsured motorist claim. The record showed that GEICO rejected Jones’ claim because he was issued a Georgia insurance policy. Under Georgia law, Jones waived his claim when he settled the underlying tort case with Allstate. Both parties agreed that Jones’ claim would be distinguished under Georgia law but disagreed on which state’s law should apply.
The Court of Appeal found that a legitimate question existed as to which state’s law applied and, on its face, was considered a substantial legal issue. The Court of Appeal then found that GEICO did not act in bad faith in pursuing judicial determination on the choice of law and ruled for GEICO on that issue.
Jones’ second claim was that GEICO acted in bad faith when it omitted pertinent facts regarding his uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage and violated La R.S. 22:1973(B)(1). That law states there is a breach in the insurer’s duties to act in good faith and fair dealing if the insurance company misrepresents pertinent facts or policy provisions relating to any coverages at issue. The overarching crux of Jones’ bad faith claim focused on GEICO’s failure to notify him or his counsel that a specific release was required and that GEICO induced him to waive his uninsured/underinsured motorist claim to avoid tendering payment.
Jones also claimed he was unaware that he was issued a Georgia policy. However, GEICO maintained that Jones identified Georgia as his address when applying for coverage and repeatedly renewed his policy based on the Georgia address.
The Court of Appeal found that the parties’ differing interpretation of the events and whether Jones’ contentions were plausible were questions of fact and, therefore, were not appropriate for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal then reversed the Trial Court’s ruling of summary judgment with respect to Jones’ bad faith claim, as it found that the parties’ accounts of the facts and circumstances required additional weighing of the evidence and for the determination of credibility. The Court of Appeal then remanded the matter for further proceedings.
As can be seen, summary judgment is not always appropriate, especially when there are competing arguments as to what state law should apply in one case. Additionally, this case demonstrates the importance of understanding your specific car insurance policy and what it covers. Issues such as these can become extremely tedious and confusing, requiring the help of an attorney with experience in these types of claims.
Additional Sources: WILLIE JONES VERSUS GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES INSURANCE COMPANY
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Samantha Calhoun
Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Automobile Insurance Claims and What State’s Laws Should Apply to that Claim: Whose Law is it Anyway: When a Mississippi Resident Wrecks in Louisiana