Questions Over Uninsured Motorist Coverage Rejection in Bossier Parish

Louisiana law, in providing for uninsured/underinsured motorist (“UM”) coverage, reflects the state’s strong public policy of providing full recovery to victims who suffer damages in car accidents. If an at-fault driver lacks sufficient insurance coverage, the UM provision of the victim’s own policy will operate to make up the shortfall. UM coverage will be read into an insurance policy by default unless the coverage is rejected, and rejection “shall be made only on a form prescribed by the commissioner of insurance,” where the “form shall be provided by the insurer and signed by the named insured or his legal representative.” The following requirements must be met in order to create a valid rejection: 1.initialing the rejection the UM coverage; 2. printing the name of the insured or legal representative; 3. signing the name of the insured or legal representative; 4. filling in the policy number; and 5. dating the form. In cases of dispute, the insurance company bears the burden of proving that the insured rejected UM coverage, but a properly completed form “creates a rebuttable presumption that the insured knowingly rejected UM coverage.” A dispute over the waiver of UM coverage formed the basis of a case that came before Louisiana’s Second Circuit Court of Appeal earlier this year.

On July 21, 2008, Richard Gunter, a Bossier Parish police jury employee, was injured when the parish-owned vehicle he was riding in as a passenger was struck by another vehicle. Gunter filed suit against the driver of the other vehicle and her insurer, Gunter’s own insurer, and St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. Gunter alleged that St. Paul provided UM coverage for the police jury. St. Paul filed a motion for summary judgment, stating that the police jury had rejected UM coverage under its policy. The trial court granted summary judgment on behalf of St. Paul; Gunter appealed on the grounds that material facts about whether the police jury knowingly and properly rejected UM coverage were in dispute.

St. Paul’s position that the police jury rejected UM coverage was based on the fact that the parish administrator had completed a UM waiver form on September 27, 2007. Yet, the parish president’s testimony via affidavit revealed uncertainty as to whether the administrator had the authority to reject UM coverage, or whether such an action required approval by the parish finance committee. The court noted that “the record does not show that [the parish administrator] acted with the agreement, knowledge, or approval of the police jury in rejecting UM coverage for the policy period at issue.” Thus, “considering the strong public policy favoring UM coverage,” the court concluded that there were “genuine issues of material fact as to whether [the parish administrator] was authorized … to reject UM coverage on behalf of the police jury as its legal representative and whether the police jury knowingly rejected UM coverage for the relevant policy period.” Accordingly, the court reversed the trial court’s granting of summary judgment.