While the subject of “conflict of laws” has caused generations of law students’ eyes to glaze over, the practical applications of deciding what jurisdiction’s law applies in a given situation can often make or break a case. For the personal injury lawyer, these issues can come up frequently in the context of uninsured motorist (UM) insurance contracts drafted in other states.
In Georgia, the general rule when faced with a choice of law problem is that the law of the place where the contract was made controls. Here are a few practical examples to see how this point applies when dealing with UM coverage:
(1) In the context of stacking UM coverages, Georgia courts will enforce anti-stacking provisions allowed in many other states, even though such measures are not permitted in Georgia.
(2) Georgia courts have enforced a provision in a Tennessee UM policy that required actual physical contact with a phantom vehicle in order to recover under the policy, even though Georgia law allows for an exception to this requirement.
(3) A recent New Jersey UM policy we analyzed contained a mandatory arbitration clause that would prevent a plaintiff trying to recover under their own policy from being able to present their case to a jury.
Even though these types of provisions have harsh consequences for injured victims and are generally not present in Georgia UM policies, contracts made in other states will almost always be enforced unless the other state’s laws are contrary to public policy- an extremely high standard to meet. Mere dissimilarity in laws is usually not enough to deny such provisions on public policy grounds, and Georgia courts have given considerable deference to the laws of other states when interpreting UM policies. Given this reality, the biggest takeaway for plaintiffs’ lawyers is to be aware when dealing with UM policies from other jurisdictions- such policies may have highly unfavorable provisions that limit a plaintiff’s ability to recover under their own UM coverage.