The Georgia Supreme Court issued a decision today on cancellation of car insurance and although I don’t think it was very interesting, it reminded me a case that we handled that was and has some bearing for Georgia consumers. We took a case for a badly injured woman who had been involved in a car crash as a passenger. The driver had driven off the road and flipped the vehicle. In response to our request for insurance information, the insurance company claimed they had canceled the policy for non-payment of premium at midnight, six hours before the crash.
Now I may be a very skeptical guy, but come on…six hours. On the other hand, Murphy’s law does tend to work that way. I then requested that the insurance company send us documentation of mailing to show conclusively that they had sent the notice on the day they claimed. When they refused to respond, I filed suit on behalf of the client who had uninsured medical costs of over $35,000.00.
Georgia law says that insurance companies have to send a letter giving notice that the policy will end in ten days in the event of failure to pay premium. OCGA § 33-24-44 The idea is we don’t want people unknowingly driving around without insurance where they may have forgotten to pay their bill.
Georgia law requires that the auto insurer maintain records to show that the cancellation letter went out on the date stated on the letter. “In order to create a presumption that the insured received the premium due notice, the law requires proof that the notice was placed in an envelope properly addressed to the insured’s last known address, with correct postage affixed, and duly mailed in the United States Post Office.” Watkins Products v. England, 123 Ga.App. 179, 181, 180 S.E.2d 265 (1971); State Farm v. Drury, 222 Ga. App. 196 (1996) “When the statute is used by the insurance company in order to effect a cancellation of insurance coverage, the language of the statute is to be strictly construed against the insurer, inasmuch as the methods adopted by the General Assembly are mandatory and intended to assure that the insured has actual notice of cancellation. Travelers Indem. Co. v. Guess, 243 Ga. 559, 560 (1) (255 SE2d 55) (1979); Allstate Ins. Co. v. Ackley, 227 Ga. App. 104, 106 (2) (488 SE2d 85)(1997).
The statutory requirements were designed to give the insurer the
responsibility of doing everything within its power to make certain that the
insured is placed on notice that the insurance coverage is being canceled.”
S09Q1613. Reynolds et al. v. Infinity General Insurance Co.
In the Drury case, the Court observed that State Farm’s employees could not testify about when the notice actually went out so their lawyers went on the offensive and argued that Mr. Drury was uncertain about his testimony that he never got the notice. “State Farm contends Drury gave equivocal testimony about receiving the premium balance due notice at issue, and thus the rule in Prophecy Corp. v. Charles Rossignol, Inc., 256 Ga. 27, 28(1) (1986), should apply: “[T]he testimony of a party who offers himself as a witness in his own behalf at trial `”is to be construed most strongly against him when it is self-contradictory, vague or equivocal.” `[Cits.] Where the favorable portion of a party’s self-contradictory testimony is the only evidence of his right to recover or of his defense, the opposing party is entitled to a directed verdict. [Cit.]” Id.”
The Court disagreed with State Farm on that point and ultimately decided that because the insurance company could not prove that the notice of premium had gone out to the insured before they sent the notice of cancellation, the notice of cancellation was ineffective. End result? The policy was still in effect at the time of the crash.
Our client’s case is still wandering its way through the trial system but the insurance company has yet to come up with any proof they mailed the notice. With any luck, justice will prevail and this dirty stunt claiming the policy was terminated six hours before this horrible crash will be punished by a jury. As an Atlanta injury attorney, that is all I can ask.