Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is an important component of automobile insurance. It can protect drivers, passengers, and even pedestrians who are injured by negligent drivers who are uninsured or underinsured (meaning the at-fault driver had insurance, but not enough to fully compensate the injured person), as well from drivers who flee the scene in a hit-and-run. In order to obtain uninsured motorist benefits, however (assuming that the claimant or vehicle is covered), certain requirements must be met. One of these requirements is that the insurance company providing the UM coverage be notified in a timely manner, with the specific time period differing depending on the language of the policy.
Another requirement, at least in the case of a hit-and-run case, is that the accident be reported to law enforcement. Subsection (c) of OCGA 33-7-11, the section of the Georgia Code governing uninsured motorist claims, states that:
If the owner or operator of any motor vehicle which causes bodily injury or property damage to the insured is unknown, the insured, or someone on his behalf, or in the event of a death claim someone on behalf of the party having the claim, in order for the insured to recover under the endorsement, shall report the accident as required by Code Section 40-6-273.
Section 40-6-273, in turn, requires that:
The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person or property damage to an apparent extent of $500.00 or more shall immediately, by the quickest means of communication, give notice of such accident to the local police department if such accident occurs within a municipality. If such accident occurs outside a municipality, such notice shall be given to the office of the county sheriff or to the nearest office of the state patrol.
Aside from these statutory requirements, most uninsured motorist insurance policies also require prompt notice to law enforcement. At least two Georgia Court of Appeals decisions have upheld these notice requirements. In Pender v. Doe, 276 Ga. App. 178, 622 S.E.2d 888 (2005), the Court rules that notice 29 days after a collision was not timely, and the uninsured motorist carrier could deny coverage for personal injuries claimed to have been caused by an unknown hit-and-run driver. A few years earlier, in Navarro v. Atlanta Casualty Company, 250 Ga. App. 550, 550, 552 S.E.2d 508, 508 (2001), the Georgia Court of Appeals reached the same result where police were notified 4 or 5 days after the accident. In both cases, the personal injury claimant was unable to pursue their claims against the insurance company due to the late notice to police.