Many years ago, Georgia modified its Uninsured Motorist statute to give some additional protection to consumers. It said that when placing coverage it had to offer you the same uninsured motorist coverage limits as you have for liability coverage. Remember that liability insurance is the protection you buy to insure you if you cause an accident or injury and uninsured motorist insurance is the coverage that you buy to protect yourself if you are hurt by someone with little or no insurance. Basically the UM coverage is for you if something bad happens to you.
Since the State of Georgia only requires that you buy liability coverage, many people try to save money by not getting UM coverage. and in the process screwing themselves. Agents are complicit because they don’t understand how important uninsured motorist insurance is. The end result is people buying top end liability coverage and then, inadvertently, getting a tiny crappy UM policy for marginal savings.
So we turn to the recent case coming out of the Georgia Court of Appeals in the 2023 case of Jones v. Georgia Farm Bureau where the facts showed that a Mr. Jones tragically died in a car accident and when his family wanted to claim the Uninsured Motorist Insurance, Farm Bureau advised him that while he had $1,000,000 in liability coverage, he opted for a tiny $25,000 in UM coverage.
The fight centered around these facts; Jones signed a document below the words “I affirmatively choose Uninsured Motorist Limits in an amount less than the Limit of Liability for Bodily Injury and Property Damage Coverage.” What the statement did not say is WHAT AMOUNT LESS.
After he signed the document, a year went by in which time the Insurer sent declarations pages listing the amount of insurance including the $25,000 in UM limits at least twice and the Decedent did not object.
The Court of Appeals looked to decisions with similar facts. In McGraw v. IDS Property & Casualty Insurance Company and Government Employees Insurance Company v. Morgan.
In McGraw, the sign up paperwork had no reference at all to selection or rejection of UM limits and the policy issue with UM limits lower than the liability limits. Several policy renewals issued with the Declarations Page always showing lower UM limits. The insurer argued there that the receipt of the Dec Pages stuck the insured with the lower limits. The Court disagreed because they had not complied with the statute requiring the offering of a choice. Those facts were better for the Plaintiff. The holding; “a declarations page showing a UM limit less than the bodily injury limit, standing alone, was insufficient to demonstrate an affirmative choice of a lesser amount of coverage.”
Basically even though the insurer and their broker is completely negligent to recommend that difference between liability and UM limits, they can get away with it if they comply with a document giving a choice and then fill in the dollar amount intention using the subsequent Dec page documents.
This is the sad state of the court of appeals. The entire point of the UM statute was to give consumers an INFORMED choice, not allow the insurer to issue a completely vague policy that the insured would not find out about until it was too late and the insurance was needed.