Under the terms of my uninsured motorist coverage, does my own automobile insurance company have a duty to negotiate in good faith with me to settle my personal injury claim prior to trial?
Surprisingly, the answer is no. In fact, in a recent case the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that Uninsured Motorist (UM) carriers do not even have a duty to negotiate, adjust, or settle a demand for payment under a UM policy prior to judgment being entered against an uninsured or underinsured tortfeasor (wrongdoer). Even if you have had the same insurance company for the last 25 years, under Virginia law that company has no duty to even deal with you in good faith pretrial.
The case in question is Manu v. Geico Casualty Company, 2017 Va. LEXIS 70. The appeal arose out of an automobile accident that occurred in Fairfax County. Pretrial, Geico utterly refused to make a meaningful offer before judgment on a UM claim, offering to pay only $5,000.00 under a UM policy that provided $25,000.00 in coverage. At trial, the injured party (Geico’s insured) received a verdict of $68,528.24, plus costs and prejudgment interest. This amount was well in excess of Geico’s exposure under its UM coverage. In a subsequent lawsuit filed against Geico by its insured, Geico took the position that it did not have any duty of good faith to deal with its insured until the insured obtained a judgment against the uninsured tortfeasor. Stated succinctly, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed with Geico’s position.
So, if you have a UM claim of any type, you truly need the assistance of an attorney to represent your interests since your own insurance company has no legal duty to look out for you. Literally, in the UM claim realm, you are never “in good hands” nor can you expect help from a “good neighbor.” And, you certainly should not expect a friendly-looking gecko to treat you fairly pretrial.