YES, YOU MUST “COOPERATE” WITH YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT.
How must you “cooperate” with your insurance company following an accident?
Depending on what state you live in, motor vehicle liability insurance policies will require compliance provisions to be implemented throughout the policy before it can be issued. These compliance provisions are also known as cooperation clauses. Cooperation clause provisions typically require the insured to send his insurer a copy of every summons or other process relating to the coverage under the policy and to cooperate otherwise with the insurer in connection with the defense of any action or threatened action covered under the policy. This information can range from police reports to pictures from the scene to statements taken by those involved in the accident in question.
It is also worth noting that the information needed can even be sent by a third party to the insurance company. While it may vary between states, it is common for the third party who is sending the material on behalf of the insured to receive a period of 30 days from the date the insurer or agent becomes known to get all of the required documents in before a judgement can be made against the insured.
UNDERSTAND THE PARTS OF YOUR INSURANCE CONTRACT THAT REQUIRE COOPERATION FOLLOWING A CAR ACCIDENT
The cooperation clause has been found to require the insured “to cooperate with his insurer in the investigation of accidents, the securing of evidence, giving notice of the accident and of claims on suits brought against him arising out of it, and attending court, assisting as he can at the trial and in making full, fair, complete and truthful disclosures of the facts known to him relative to the accident when called upon to do so. O.C.G.A Section 33-7-15. In order to defend the insured against claims covered by an insurance policy, the insurer must possess the ability to investigate the facts and circumstances of the accident and retain access to evidence that stands to be admitted in a trial. In conducting such an investigation, the insurer is allowed the opportunity to determine any possible defenses that can be raised on behalf of the insured and they are able to determine whether settlement negotiations should be started.
Failure to comply with cooperation clauses and provisions will constitute a breach of the insurance contract. And what this means is that if a court finds that the insured refused to cooperate with the insurer, the insurer can be relieved of its obligation to pay for any damages on behalf of the insured and defend the insured of any liability as would otherwise be covered under the policy. When the insurer asserts a defense that it has no obligation to the insured under the insuring agreement predicated upon the insured's failure to cooperate, the insurer must show that it has sought diligently to obtain the insured's cooperation but that the insured has willfully and intentionally refused to cooperate. Once this is shown, the burden shifts to the insured to show justification or excuse for his failure to cooperate. Supra. If however a judgment is found in the insured's favor, showing that there is in fact coverage, the insurer will remain responsible for legal cost and attorney fees as the court sees fit.
A “cooperation clause” in a standard policy could read as follows:
Assistance and Cooperation of the Insured
“ … The insured shall cooperate with the company and, upon the company's request, assist in making settlements, in the conduct of suits and in enforcing any right of contribution or indemnity against any person or organization who may be liable to the insured because of bodily injury, property damage or loss with respect to which insurance is afforded under this policy; and the insured shall attend hearings and trials and assist in securing and giving evidence and obtaining the attendance of witnesses. The insured shall not, except at his own cost, voluntarily make any payment, assume any obligation or incur any expense other than for such immediate medical and surgical relief to others as shall be imperative at the time of accident.”
O.C.G.A. § 33-7-15