Another driver crashed into you on an Alabama highway. You suffered personal injury. The other driver does not have enough insurance to pay for your damages. Naturally, the other driver also has no money, assets, or other hidden treasure, that can pay for your damages. Thankfully, you have uninsured / underinsured coverage on your policy. You can make a claim against both the negligent driver and your own insurance carrier for your damages.
What happens next? Your uninsured insurance carrier has a choice. It can choose to stay in the case and assist in defending the claim – in other words, to argue against your claim. If the uninsured or underinsured driver also has his own counsel, the injured plaintiff now faces multiple lawyers. Or, the insurance carrier can opt out and allow you to proceed just against the negligent driver, with the understanding it will pay damages beyond the other driver’s insurance. It’s a simple choice. Yet, Alabama’s Supreme Court has allowed this simple choice to evolve into one completely unjust to you as the injured plaintiff.
Your uninsured carrier can opt, in or out, of the claim. And, Alabama law says it has a “reasonable time” to make the choice that is in its best interest. If the insurance carrier opts “in” then it is an active defendant with lawyers actively working against you. If it opts “out” then it does not defend your claim at trial and you cannot mention the insurance company. How has our Court taken a simple choice and made it completely unfair to the injured driver? The recent case of Ex parte Electric Insurance Company is a perfect example. In that case, the uninsured carrier actively participated in the case for almost two years. During that time, the insurance company’s lawyers served discovery on the injured plaintiff, took the plaintiff’s deposition, and participated in depositions of four different medical doctors. After participating in the case – practically to the eve of trial – the insurance carrier attempted to opt out. The trial court understood the insurance company’s late effort to opt out was unfair and denied the request. However, our Supreme Court thought differently, concluding such a long delay was “reasonable.”
It is difficult to imagine how or why our Court thought this two year delay was reasonable. Instead, it prejudiced the plaintiff. If extra attorneys are allowed to participate in discovery and depositions for this length of time, then they should also be present and seen by the jury at trial. You should not be allowed to prepare the defense and then hide at trial.