Auto accident attorneys do everything they can to protect their clients’ claims to no-fault benefits. But sometimes, the error that ends your case happens long before the free consultation. If your client misses critical reporting requirements, there may be nothing to be done.
In the unpublished case Grimmett v Farmers Insurance Exchange, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently approved of the notice provisions in Farmers Insurance’s no-fault policy. The contract required:
“In the event of an accident, or loss, notice must be given to us [i.e., Farmers] promptly. The notice must give the time, place, and circumstances of the accident, or loss, including the names and addresses of injured persons and witnesses.
A person claiming any coverage of this policy must also:
* * *
6. Notify police within 24 hours and us within 30 days if a hit-and-run motorist is involved and an uninsured motorist claim is to be filed.”
Grimmett was covered under his sister’s no-fault policy with Farmers when he was in an accident in Detroit. The other driver and a bystander reportedly called 911, but he didn’t. Then his sister notified Farmers of the loss. The plaintiff and defense versions of the timing of those reports differ. The plaintiff said this happened within a week of the accident. The insurance company said it happened almost two months later.
The court of appeals said that those differing accounts would have been enough to send the case to trial. Where there are two versions, the court will assume a jury could believe either version. But no one claimed that the plaintiff ever contacted the police.
The court said Farmers’ notice requirement could cut the plaintiff off from his no-fault benefits.
“Such notice requirements are not a mere procedural formality, and the expectation that plaintiff and his sister comply with the notice provisions in Farmers’ policy is not unduly harsh or unreasonable. Rather, such requirements exist ‘to afford the insurer an adequate opportunity to investigate [a claim], to prevent fraud and imposition upon it, and to form an intelligent estimate of its rights and liabilities before it is obliged to pay.’ 13 Couch, Insurance, 3d,§ 186:14, pp 186-36.3.”
These kinds of reporting requirements can be fatal to an auto accident attorney’s case. A 24-hour reporting requirement means that your clients will have made or missed their deadline before they ever talk to you. Part of your initial client screening process should be to find out whether your client contacted the police and their insurance provider after the accident. If they haven’t, you may not be able to help them receive any benefits.
David Christensen is an auto accident attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He has been representing accident victims for over twenty years. If your clients are facing a complicated no-fault case, contact Christensen Law for a referral.