Must I Notify My Car Insurance After I am in Accident?
The Importance of Notifying Your Insurance Carrier Immediately After an Accident
If you have been involved in an auto accident in Atlanta, after you get checked out by doctors and get necessary medical treatment, one important thing you, although preferably your lawyer will do this for you, is notify your insurance carrier. However, don’t ever agree to a recorded statement—just give notice of the accident.
It is a good idea to first speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you talk with any insurance company so that you can better prepare yourself for the questions you will be asked, and more importantly, a lawyer can and will notify the insurance company for you. The reason you and your lawyer need to notify your insurance company is because failure to do so can result in loss of insurance coverage. A recent non-precedential case from the Georgia Court of Appeals reinforces the importance of this. See Bramley v. Nationwide Affinity Insurance Co. of Amer., Case No. A18A0009 (Ga. App. May 7, 2018). If you or a family member has been injured in an auto accident in Georgia, you should contact a dedicated and proven Atlanta personal injury attorney.
Bramley v. Nationwide Affinity Insurance Co
On August 17, 2015, the plaintiff, Jennifer Bramley, was struck by another driver while driving. She did not seek medical treatment at the time, but one to two weeks after the collision, she went to see a neurologist for back pain she was experiencing. During the following weeks and months, Bramley continued to experience pain in her lower back and legs and the pain prevented her from working.
In the spring of 2016, Bramley filed a lawsuit against the driver of the other vehicle and, on April 20, 2016, notice of that pending lawsuit was sent to Bramley’s insurance carrier, Nationwide. However, the other driver was underinsured, and eventually, Bramley sought coverage from Nationwide under her own insurance policy, which provided coverage for damages or injury caused by an underinsured or uninsured motorist.
In response, Nationwide pointed to provisions in Bramley’s insurance policy that required Bramley to “submit written proof of the claim to [Nationwide] immediately after the loss.” The policy provided that “no legal action may be brought against [Nationwide] concerning any of the coverages provided until the insured has fully complied with all the terms of the policy.” Since Bramley waited more than eight months to notify Nationwide, Nationwide argued that Bramley did not comply with the policy and, therefore, Nationwide was not liable under the underinsured motorist provisions. Nationwide argued that, plainly, eight months was not notice made “immediately after the loss.”
What does “Immediately” Mean?
In the Bramley case, the Court of Appeals held that Bramley was required to provide notice “immediately” to Nationwide and that notice was a condition of receiving coverage under her insurance policy.
The word “immediately” was not defined in the policy. The Court of Appeals then looked to caselaw to provide a definition. Thus, in the case of Progressive Mountain Ins. Co. v. Bishop,338 Ga. App. 115 (2016), a policy provision requiring notice of accident be given “promptly” was equated with requiring notice “as soon as practicable.” A lengthier definition was provided in Advocate Networks, LLC v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 296 Ga. App. 338 (2009) where the court said the term “immediately” in an insurance policy meant notice that was made with “… reasonable diligence and within a reasonable length of time in view of attending circumstances of each particular case.”
In Advocate Networks, the court found notice made four months after the accident was not “immediately.” The Bramley court also cited other cases where 46 days is not deemed to be “immediate” and also cited one case holding that notifying the police of an accident four or five days later violated a Georgia law which requires drivers to immediately notify police of an accident.
Based on the foregoing, the Bramley court concluded that Jennifer Bramley had failed to “immediately” give notice to Nationwide. Eight months was, as a matter of law, not “immediately.”
However, as the court said, the inquiry did not come to an end, “… because we must consider whether Bramley has offered a reasonable justification for the delay.”
Reasonable Justification for Delay?
Even if you do not “immediately” notify your insurance carrier, sometimes the delay can be justified. In the Bramley case, the plaintiff argued that she did not fully understand the nature and extent of her injuries until early 2016. As a result, the Court of Appeals said that a jury was needed to resolve the factual question of whether that was a sufficient excuse and whether the further delay from “early 2016” to April 2016 was excused.
The cases discussed above show the clear need to immediately notify your insurance carrier of an accident even if you believe the other driver was at fault, and even if you think that the other driver’s insurance will cover the costs of medical care, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other recoverable damages. Any unreasonable unjustified delay could result in no coverage. It is a very good idea to at least speak with an Atlanta car accident lawyer after your wreck.