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Louisiana Appellate Court Upholds Summary Judgment Motion in Favor of Insurance Company Rejecting Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage for Widow of Deceased Car Accident Victim

In this appeal, the wife of a man fatally injured in a car accident brought a lawsuit against the driver of the other vehicle and their insurance company, as well as the insurer of her husband’s vehicle. The court assessed whether the lower court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, dismissing the case. Specifically, the court reviewed choice of law issues concerning the relevant automobile policies.

fatal crash

Oswalda Rangel, the wife of the deceased, filed a personal injury claim on behalf of herself and her minor children, naming the driver of the other vehicle, Felipe Vega-Ortiz, the owner of Mr. Vega’s vehicle, and the insurer, Affirmative Insurance Company, as well as the insurer of Mr. Medina’s vehicle, Progressive Mountain Insurance Company.  Progressive moved for summary judgment on the ground that it did not provide uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage when the collision took place.  The trial court granted the motion, and Ms. Rangel filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied.

On appeal, Ms. Rangel claimed that the trial court should have made a conflict of law determination before granting Progressive’s motion and should not have applied Georgia law without first conducting a conflict of law analysis.  She also alleged the relevant uninsured/underinsured (“UM”) rejection was invalid.

In their discussion, the court stated that a motion for summary judgment shall be granted when there is no genuine issue of material fact. The moving party is then entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Even when there is no opposition to a summary judgment motion, the court stated they must still determine whether the moving party met their burden of proof. On appeal, the same criteria applies to a summary judgment, and the court must determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact.

First, the court addressed Ms. Rangel’s argument that the trial court erred when it did not apply Louisiana law to the UM waiver. The law states that Louisiana automobile liability policies include UM coverage, unless the insured expressly rejects that coverage or chooses a lower limit. However, the general rule is that a case involving contacts with another state requires choosing the laws of the state whose policies are most “seriously impaired” if its law were not applied to that issue.

The appellate court noted the policy purposes of Louisiana’s UM legislation – to promote full recovery for victims of torts. Georgia, the court stated, has an interest in regulating their own insurance industry and contractual obligations.

Turning to the contacts of Georgia and Louisiana, the court stated that the Progressive policy at issue had been issued in Georgia to Ms. Medina-Ramon at a Georgia address. The covered cars were garaged in Georgia. Furthermore, the policy declarations page indicated that “Uninsured Motorist” was “Rejected” for each listed vehicle, including the one driven by Mr. Medina and involved in the accident.

The Court of Appeal stated that Louisiana’s contacts with the dispute were sparse, although the accident took place in Lafayette Parish. The court stated that while Ms. Rangel alleged that she and her children, as well as the driver of the other involved vehicle, were Louisiana residents, Progressive did not concede that fact. Mr. Medina’s residency remained unclear, according to the court.

The court stated that based on Louisiana’s and Georgia’s relationships to the issue after reviewing the facts, Georgia was in fact the state whose policies would be most seriously impaired if the laws of that state were not applied. The Georgia insurance policy was issued to an insured at a Georgia address for a vehicle in a Georgia garage. There were multiple contacts with Georgia, and the court stated that the trial court did not err when it found Georgia law applicable.

Regarding the waiver of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, the court stated the relevant Georgia law regarding the rejection of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage requires that an insured be given the option of rejecting UM coverage or selecting minimum or maximum coverage under the policy. However, it is also the case that there are no formal requirements for how the insurance company must offer these options. In this case, the court stated that Progressive met its burden of showing that Ms. Medina waived her UM coverage under Georgia law. The appellate court rejected Ms. Medina’s contention that she was forced to decline coverage because the “rejected” option on the waiver form was “pre-filled.”

In conclusion, the court stated that the trial court’s grant of the summary judgment motion in favor of Progressive was appropriate. The appellate court affirmed the judgment, finding that Georgia law should apply in this case.

The Louisiana car accident lawyers at Lavis Law litigate insurance coverage disputes and claims of insurance bad faith on behalf of clients throughout the state. We provide a free consultation, and our office can be reached by calling 866.558.9151.

More Blog Posts:

Louisiana Appellate Court Upholds Plaintiffs’ Right to Compensation After Car Accident, Louisiana Insurance & Injury Lawyer Blog

Louisiana Court Holds Auto Insurance Company Not Liable for Property and Personal Injury Damage Caused During Driver’s Attempt to Escape Police, Louisiana Insurance & Injury Lawyer Blog

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