February 19, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Written Rejection of Enhanced UM/UIM Coverage Not Required

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Airth v. Zurich American Insurance Co. on Thursday, January 25, 2018.

Motor Vehicle Insurance—Uninsured/Underinsured—Summary Judgment.

Airth was seriously injured in an accident while operating a semi truck owned by his employer, Sole Transport LLC, d/b/a Solar Transport Company (Solar). He was struck by a negligent, uninsured driver. Solar had uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) insurance coverage of $50,000 for its employees through a policy issued by Zurich American Insurance Co. Airth brought a claim for declaratory relief, seeking to reform Solar’s policy to provide UM/UIM coverage of $1 million. He alleged he was entitled to the higher amount because Zurich had failed, as required by C.R.S. § 10-4-609, to (1) offer Solar UM/UIM coverage in an amount equal to its bodily injury liability coverage ($1 million), and (2) produce a written rejection by Solar of such an offer. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court entered judgment for Zurich ruling, as a matter of law, that (1) Zurich’s documents adequately offered Solar UM/UIM coverage in an amount equal to the bodily injury liability limits of the policy, and (2) there is no requirement that the rejection of UM/UIM limits in an amount equal to liability limits be in writing.

On appeal, Airth contended that both of the district court’s rulings were incorrect and the court therefore erred in granting Zurich’s summary judgment motion and denying Airth’s cross-motion. C.R.S. § 10-4-609(1)(a) prohibits an insurer from issuing an automobile liability policy unless a minimum amount of UM/UIM coverage is included in the policy, except where the named insured rejects UM/UIM coverage in writing. C.R.S. § 10-4-609(2) requires an insurer, before a policy is issued or renewed, to offer the insured the right to obtain UM/UIM coverage in an amount equal to the insured’s bodily injury liability limits. The facts here were undisputed. Before renewing Solar’s policy, Zurich sent a package of documents pertaining to Solar’s rights related to UM/UIM coverage and Solar’s counsel affirmed that he had read all the documents. This included an opportunity to reject UM/UIM coverage or to select a higher than minimum level of UM/UIM coverage. Airth argued that none of this constituted an “offer” of the ability to obtain higher UM/UIM coverage, because the documents did not contain a premium quote or a way to estimate the premium for purchasing UM/UIM coverage commensurate with a bodily injury liability limit of $1 million. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed that this would be the case if it were applying the meaning of the term “offer” as used in contract law. But the Colorado Supreme Court has attributed a different meaning to “offer” as it is used in C.R.S. § 10-4-609; the dispositive question is whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the insured was adequately informed that higher UM/UIM coverage was available. Here, that standard was met by the documents Zurich provided to Solar.

Airth also argued that Zurich was not entitled to summary judgment because there was no evidence that anyone from Solar read or understood the document. This argument overlooks that attestation of Solar’s counsel.

Airth further argued that reversal is required because the documents were signed and dated a month after the policy went into effect. The operative question is whether the insurer gave the insured the opportunity to purchase statutorily-compliant coverage before the insured needed it. The record reflects that Solar had received and responded to the notification and offer before the accident that injured Airth.

Airth also contended that the district court erred in determining that the statute only requires a written rejection with respect to the minimum UM/UIM coverage available and not to the additional coverage available. The court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that a written rejection is required only if the insured declines the minimum amount of UM/UIM coverage, which was not the case here.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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