UM Insurer Loses the Form Battle But May Yet Win the Coverage War
In GEICO Indem. Co. v Perez, 2018 WL 4495557 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2018), not only was Geico Indemnity Company and Geico General Insurance Company (collectively GEICO) forced to go to trial against their insured because the trial court denied GEICO’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of whether the insured was entitled to uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage but the jury also found that the insured had been severely injured due to the negligence of an un insured motorist, entitling him to UM coverage from GEICO. However, while the intermediate appellate court felt compelled to affirm the trial court’s denial of GEICO’s summary judgment motion, it nonetheless handed GEICO a victory by granting GEICO a new trial because the trial court improperly excluded probative, admissible evidence on the issue of whether the insured had made a knowing, written rejection of UM coverage.
On the issue of whether the insured was entitled to UM coverage, GEICO argued on appeal that that the insured’s daughter had electronically signed a UM rejection form on behalf of her father online, thereby entitling GEICO to the conclusive statutory presumption that the insured had rejected UM coverage. The relevant statute, Section 627.727(1) of the Florida Statutes (2013), provides that as long as the carrier uses a UM rejection form that precisely complies with the statute and is signed by a named insured, it will be conclusively presumed that there was an informed, knowing rejection of UM coverage on behalf of all insureds. Unfortunately for GEICO, while its UM rejection form had been approved by Florida’s Department of Insurance Regulation, it failed to track the precise language of the statute. Specifically, the bolded 12-point type of GEICO’s UM form included the language “BODILY INJURY LIMITS,” instead of “BODILY INJURY LIABILITY LIMITS,” and the language “PLEASE READ IT CAREFULLY” instead of “PLEASE READ CAREFULLY.”
While the foregoing delivered a harsh lesson. GEICO lucked out because the intermediate appellate court ordered a new trial on the issue of whether the insured made an informed, knowing rejection of UM coverage. In this regard, it held that the trial court improperly precluded GEICO from offering evidence that the insured had made a knowing rejection of UM coverage by limiting GEICO to only offering evidence that the insured had made a knowing, oral rejection of UM coverage. Thus, even though GEICO may not have been entitled to a conclusive statutory presumption that the insured had rejected UM coverage, at the second trial GEICO can attempt to prove that he had made an informed, knowing written rejection of UM coverage.