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What should you do after a crash? Exactly what your auto insurance policy says

No matter how unfair or unrealistic the terms: Hit-and-run victim denied ‘uninsured motorist’ benefits because he didn’t call police within 24 hours of his automobile accident, as required by another car’s insurance policy

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Most lawyers and law students will get this question wrong… Ready?

What is the No. 1 most important thing that any Michigan auto accident victim must do after a crash?

The answer in this state – which is now different from almost everywhere else in the nation – is this: Exactly what your auto insurance policy says you must do.

Most lawyers in Michigan would get the question wrong. Lawyers would talk about reasonable expectations of someone entering into a one-sided contract with an auto insurance company in a state where it is illegal to not have auto No Fault insurance.  But, in a state without bad faith laws (or even a Consumer Protection Act) to protect auto insurance consumers, there is no such thing as reasonable expectations. Reasonable expectations of a consumer can be defeated – at least in Michigan – by onerous and one-sided requirements buried in an auto insurance policy that even auto attorneys like myself can have trouble wading through.

And the failure to meet these requirements set out in your auto insurance policy could – and very likely will – kill your case and result in being legally denied No Fault PIP (personal injury protection) benefits which you’re rightfully entitled. I’ve been an attorney helping people injured in automobile accidents in this state for more than two decades, and I can personally attest to this.

A real world example is what happened to Emmett Grimmett. After being injured in a crash caused by a hit-and-run driver, Mr. Grimmett filed a claim for “uninsured motorist” benefits with Farmers Insurance Exchange, the auto insurer who had written the policy for the vehicle Mr. Grimmett was driving at the time of his car accident.

The vehicle was owned by Mr. Grimmett’s sister, who, as the “policy holder,” was the named insured on the Farmers auto insurance policy.

Farmers denied Mr. Grimmett’s claim on the basis that he’d waited nearly two months to notify the police about the crash and, thus, he hadn’t complied with the 24-hour police-notification provision in Farmers auto insurance policy.

Specifically, under the section entitled, “WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF ACCIDENT,” the Farmers’ policy stated:

“A person claiming any coverage of this policy must … Notify police within 24 hours … if a hit-and-run motorist is involved and an uninsured motorist claim is to be filed.”

The hit-and-run crash that gave rise to Mr. Grimmett’s claim for “uninsured motorist” benefits occurred on July 26, 2012. But he – as the “person claiming any coverage of this policy” – did not make a police report about the crash until September 17, 2012.

Mr. Grimmett sued, but the trial court and the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with Farmers that, under the terms of the policy’s 24-hour police-notification requirement, denial of Mr. Grimmett’s claim was justified.

In Grimmett v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, the Court of Appeals concluded:

“[T]here is no issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff’s sister (or plaintiff himself) notified police within 24 hours of the accident. By his own admission, neither plaintiff nor his sister contacted the police to tell them of the accident within 24 hours of July 26, 2012.”

*    *    *

“The failure of plaintiff or his sister to inform the police of the accident within 24 hours of the accident is fatal to plaintiff’s suit because the insurance policy at issue clearly requires the ‘person claiming any coverage of [the] policy’ to ‘notify police within 24 hours of the accident.’”

The Court’s conclusion is particularly significant because the judges suggest (albeit in a footnote) that if Mr. Grimmett had properly complied with the police-notification requirement he would have likely received the “uninsured motorist” benefits he was seeking:

“Farmers ultimately did not contest, and does not contest on appeal, that the accident in question, if properly reported …, would have merited coverage as an ‘uninsured motorist accident’ under [the] policy.”

The Grimmett ruling is a hard one to read for me as an attorney because of the harsh consequences that Mr. Grimmett is forced to live with.

But it’s also a very important ruling – even if it takes place in some “Twilight Zone” alternate reality where someone should somehow be expected to know what the terms are in an auto insurance policy that belongs to someone else, in this case, his sister, and to understand and comply within a ridiculously short reporting period of 24 hours no matter how seriously the underlying personal injuries he suffered are.

It teaches a hard lesson that all Michigan auto accident victims – and their attorneys – must learn (whether they agree with this  draconian approach or not):

In order to be eligible for and to collect the auto insurance benefits that an auto accident victim may need and/or otherwise be entitled to, he or she must follow claim instructions spelled out in their auto insurance policy.

My advice as an attorney: At the very least, call the police and report your auto accident and make sure to contact the insurance company that insures the vehicle immediately.

If you are too doped up from strong narcotics because you are seriously hurt, and you can’t comply within 24 hours, you better hope that insurance company is not Farmers.

Related info:

Care for a little honest with your insurance policy?

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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