One of the trickier parts of practicing car accident insurance law comes when the lawyer has to analyze “choice of law” issues, that is lawyer speak for how do you decide which State’s law applies when a case involves multiple states. So how do analyze a situation?
First, the Georgia Ground Rules for Contracts:
The remedies laid out by the contract are controlled by the law of the forum (“lex fori”) which is the place where the lawsuit is filed. Race to the Court for this one people.
“the validity, nature, construction and interpretation of a contract are properly predicated on the law of the lex loci contractus, which in its purest sense is the place where the contract was made or entered into” Tillman v. Gibson, 44 Ga. App. 440, 442 (161 SE 630); General Electric Corp. v. Home Indemnity Co. 168 Ga. App. 144 (1983). That means that when it comes to how the contract is interpreted, the place where they made the contract controls. When it comes to car insurance contracts, the lexi loci contractus is usually the home of the insured at the time of the making of the contract. Trustees of Williams Hospital v. Nesbitt 189 Ga. 807 (1940); Iowa State Travelers Mut. Assn. v. Cadwell, 113 Ga. App. 128 (4), (147 SE2d 461)
Finally the rules of evidence and rules of proving damages etc. are lex fori as well. If a wrongful death occurs in Georgia, the causes of action are normally controlled under Georgia law.
Finally, remember that if the forum State says a certain term of the contract is void as against public policy (no prostitution for example), then the term of the contract will be void.
So, let’s deal with a hypothetical case
Florida and South Carolina uninsured polices require that you check with the issuing UM carrier before settling a case for the policy limits of the person that caused the accident. This is ostensibly to preserve their subrogation rights. See FL Statutes – Title XXXVII Insurance Section 627.011 (6)(c) Georgia Courts have enforced the out of State provision because it does not directly contravene Georgia’s laws. In other words, two adults can make a deal so long as it is not illegal, so read the fine print.
Anti-stacking provisions from out of state polices in Georgia can be enforced as can their stricter rules on what evidence is needed under a UM contract to bring a hit and run unknown driver, “John Doe” case.
What about if a crash occurs in Georgia and the victim is covered by a Florida issued UM policy? Under Florida law the victim can bring an injury case directly against the UM insurer and has a Statute of Limitations that is longer than the Georgia 2 year statute. Florida’s statute of limitations for car wrecks is 4 years but the uninsured motorist statute of limitations is 5 years. Does Florida’s statute apply or Georgia’s?
There is a strong argument that the Florida statute of limitations on UM claims contained in the contract is what applies when suit is brought in Florida for the Georgia crash. I have emailed a few Florida lawyers to get their opinion and will update this post when we hear back.