In the world of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (“UM coverage”) there is a clear requirement in Georgia that an insured’s rejection of UM coverage be evidenced by a writing signed by the insured who is rejecting the coverage. See O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11 (a)(3). However, what about the situation where an insured does not reject UM coverage, but elects for coverage less than the liability limits? The Georgia Court of Appeals addressed that very issue in Jones v. Georgia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 367 Ga. App. 35 (2023).
The Jones case arose out of a tragic motor vehicle accident that took the life of Georgia Farm Bureau’s insured. The policy issued to the insured by Georgia Farm Bureau carried liability coverage with limits of $1,000,000.00 and UM coverage with limits of $25,000.00. The insured’s estate disputed the contention that the UM coverage was only $25,000.00 noting that there was no document that both affirmatively chose UM coverage less than the liability limits and specified the lesser amount of UM coverage elected. On appeal, Georgia Court of Appeals rejected that such a document was required and affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment to Georgia Farm Bureau on its claim that its’ insured elected to carry only $25,000.00 in UM coverage. When it did, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed the principal that “unlike an insured’s rejection of any UM coverage, an insured’s choice of UM coverage in an amount less than liability limits need not be made in writing. Id. at *38. It noted, however, that the burden lies with the insurer to show that the insured “did in fact make an affirmative choice of lesser coverage” and that if the burden is not met, the “default amount of UM coverage under an insurance policy is in an amount equal to the limit of liability coverage.” Id. at *39.
As it relates to the specific facts of Jones, the Court of Appeals concluded that it was undisputed that when the insured updated his insurance in 2015, the year before the accident at issue, he signed a document directly underneath a statement that read “I affirmatively choose Uninsured Motorist Limits in an amount less than the Limit of Liability for Bodily Injury and Property Damage Coverage.” Id. at *40. And while that document signed by the insured did not specify the lesser limits of the UM coverage that was being selected, the Court of Appeals noted that a declarations page that accompanied the document reflected the insured’s selection of $25,000.00 in UM Coverage. As a matter of law, the Court of Appeals concluded, Georgia Farm Bureau had met its burden of proof, and summary judgment was warranted.
Although a document signed by an insured that both affirmatively chooses UM limits in an amount less than the bodily injury liability limits and states the lesser limits selected is ideal, the Jones opinion expressly rejects the notion that such a document is a requirement. Id. at *40-*41.