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Louisiana Appellate Court Affirms Summary Judgment When Insured Electronically Rejected Uninsured Motorist Coverage

A recent case before the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal addressed the validity of an electronic waiver of uninsured motorist liability coverage. Procedurally, Jesus Rapalo-Alfaro’s lawsuit against his insurance carrier, Certain Underwriters at Lloyds London (Lloyds), was dismissed with prejudice. Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro had named Lloyds as his uninsured motorist carrier after an underinsured driver had injured him. Lloyds filed a summary judgment motion, supported by a copy of the uninsured motorist waiver, electronically signed by Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro. He had argued the waiver was invalid, but the court granted Lloyds’ motion for summary judgment. He appealed.

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Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro had alleged that while driving his car, he was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by George Lee, Jr. He contended that Mr. Lee was responsible for the accident and that Liberty Mutual, Mr. Lee’s insurer, was liable for damages in excess of $50,000.00. Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro then amended his petition, adding Lloyds as a defendant. He asserted that Mr. Lee was uninsured or underinsured. Lloyds denied that it insured Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro on the date of the alleged accident and also denied that Mr. Lee was uninsured or underinsured. Lloyds filed a motion for summary judgment.

In opposing Lloyds’ motion, Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro contended that his policy with Lloyds had been completed electronically, and he also argued that Lloyds failed to show that he agreed to complete his uninsured motorist rejection form electronically.

On appeal, the court reviewed Louisiana law governing the rejection of uninsured motorist coverage. The court stated that such coverage serves to provide a full recovery for automobile accident victims who are harmed by a tortfeasor without adequate insurance.  By law, all automobile insurance policies issued in Louisiana and for the use of cars registered in the state must provide uninsured motorist coverage. However, the statutory coverage requirement does not apply if an insured rejects the coverage or selects a lower limit.

Reviewing a summary judgment motion, the court stated that it applies the same criteria that govern the lower court’s decision of whether summary judgment is appropriate:  is there a genuine issue of material fact?   The burden of proof remains with the moving party.   The plaintiff seeking insurance coverage must establish that his claim is within the policy coverage.

Exclusion from insurance coverage within a policy must be stated clearly and unmistakably.  The insurer must prove that an insured rejected a policy, in writing. Once a properly completed uninsured motorist coverage form is shown, a rebuttable presumption arises that the insured knowingly rejected such coverage. Then, the insured would have to prove that the form was not properly completed.

Turning to the evidence before the trial court, the appellate court stated that Lloyds presented a properly authenticated copy of Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro’s liability policy with the company. An uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage form shows that Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro initialed the box that indicated he declined uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage.   While the signature is electronic, all the signatures on the policy documents are digital and assigned ID numbers.

Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro did not present exhibits or affidavits in support of his opposition to Lloyds’ summary judgment motion. He did not claim that he waived coverage or desired to purchase uninsured motorist coverage. Instead, he argued that Lloyds’ form violates Louisiana law.

First, Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro claimed that Lloyds did not show he agreed to sign his rejection of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage electronically. The court rejected this claim and further stated that he did not deny that he agreed to complete his liability policy application electronically.   The court also rejected his claim that Lloyds must first establish that he specifically consented to execute the form electronically. After reviewing Louisiana’s Electronic Transaction Act, the court stated that electronic signatures are to be given the same legal effect as other types of signatures. As the insurer, Lloyds does not have an additional burden of proof, unless Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro denied signing the uninsured motorist waiver form.

The court also stated that Lloyds did not have an additional burden to establish that the signature was Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro’s. Since the form was properly completed, there was a rebuttable presumption that the insured, Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro, rejected the coverage. It was his burden to show that his signature was not his own, and in light of the summary judgment motion, he was to show that a genuine issue of material fact remained. Since he did not deny completing the form, the court presumed that it was properly completed and signed by him.

Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro argued that since his uninsured rejection form was electronic, he could not make a meaningful uninsured motorist selection.  Here, he alleged that the “NA” pre-filled on the form left him without a choice, and he therefore was required to place his initials next to the selection indicating he did not want uninsured motorist coverage. He contended that the nature of this form violates Louisiana law.

The court rejected Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro’s allegation that the facts of this case mirrored another case in which the court found that the plaintiff there had been delivered a product he had not requested. Here, Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro never required “full coverage” insurance and had not been prevented by Lloyds from getting it.

In conclusion, the court stated that the lower court correctly found that the electronic rejection form did not prevent Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro from making a meaningful uninsured motorist selection.   The court affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of Mr. Rapalo-Alfaro’s claims against Lloyds.

At Lavis Law, we help clients navigate insurance claims and disputes.  Contact our office for a free consultation by calling 866.558.9151.

More Blog Posts:

Louisiana Appeals Court Reverses Judgment in Automobile Accident Case, Louisiana Insurance Lawyer Blog, September 25, 2015

Louisiana Appeals Court Holds that Evidence Does not Favor the Plaintiff over Insurer, Louisiana Insurance Lawyer Blog, August 18, 2015

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