The Weed Warrior line of cases has opened up a wave of claims against auto insurance companies for the past denial of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. As a result of the Weed Warrior and the cases leading up to it, insurance companies and drivers alike are scrambling. One issue that has yet to be resolved entirely is what exactly is the statute of limitations on these claims?
For some background, Weed Warriors and the many other appellate court cases addressing the rights of drivers in UM/UIM coverage situations sets forth the duties of insurance companies in obtaining waivers of UM/UIM coverage. In a nutshell, in order for a waiver to be effective, there are numerous hurdles that auto insurance companies must overcome.
The gist of these cases is that the insured driver must fully understand and agree to the waiver. The reason for this is simple, UM/UIM is about the only bargain that a driver will get when purchasing insurance. In fact, the coverage is both essential in New Mexico which has the highest rate of uninsured drivers in the country and inexpensive. Simply put, it is a better deal for the driver than the insurance company.
These facts have led to many insurance companies duping drivers into waiving this essential and inexpensive coverage. As a result, there has been a wave of cases over the past several years requiring that waivers be in writing, fully disclosed and signed by the insured driver. Weed Warriors took this one step further requiring insurance companies to offer UM/UIM, disclose the costs of UM/UIM coverage and the difference in premium that would result from the waiver. In short, it must be a knowing waiver of coverage.
There is a strong public policy in New Mexico of requiring drivers to carry insurance. There is an equally strong policy in light of the high rate of uninsured drivers of providing UM/UIM in the event that an uninsured or underinsured motorist causes injuries to others. These policies are clear from the recent New Mexico Appellate Court decisions.
Equally clear is that many UM/UIM claims have been wrongfully denied in the past by these high standards. The court decisions make clear that the decisions are retroactive meaning that past wrongful denials must be remedied. This has resulted in thousands upon thousands of letters being sent by highly conscientious insurers to their insured drivers on past auto accidents. These went out pretty early after the Weed Warrior cases. Unfortunately, many less conscientious insurers have failed to do likewise.
This leads to the very important question and the subject of this post (if not yet apparent) of when the statute of limitations will run on these claims. The statute of limitations will be governed by the 6 year statute of limitations applying to contracts. The question becomes when does the 6 years begin to run?
The insurance companies are taking the position that the claims run 6 years from the date of the accident. Plaintiff‘s attorneys that represent those drivers wrongfully denied UM/UIM take the position that the 6 years begins to run from the date of the wrongful denial. This issue will likely be the subject of the next round of UM/UIM appellate court decision.
The outcome will make a huge difference to both insured drivers and to the insurance companies. The important thing for insured drivers facing this situation to take from this is that whatever the outcome on this dispute, there is a deadline under the statute of limitations. Missing the deadline will result in a denial of claims. It would be most prudent to assume that the deadline will be the shorter of the two beginning from the date of the accident. To assume otherwise may result in a complete bar to past UM/UIM claims.
If you are facing this situation, you should immediately contact a personal injury attorney with experience in insurance and specifically UM/UIM insurance claims. Delay in addressing these matters could be fatal to your claims. Indeed, this is what some insurance companies are no doubt hoping.