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Complaint 13 of 20 in "Fault and No-Fault Issues"

Insurance Carrier: Geico
State: Georgia

Consumer Complaint:

Our son was in a car accident while at Georgia Southern College on September 8, 2008. The other driver was cited by the police for the accident. The other driver has insurance with Geico. They have delayed doing anything because their client will not return phone calls or contact them. Our son was told that if the other driver did not contact Geico by yesterday (10/2) that they would accept the police report and pay the claim. Today, the adjuster told our son that Geico will only pay the claim at 80% because Geico determined that their driver was not completely at fault. How can Geico get away with making this determination, when only 1 person was cited for the accident? Thank you for your help and consideration.

Insurance Expert Answer:

I know how you feel. As a legal matter in MOST states to the extent that there is any contributory negligence on the part of driver 2, the amount driver 1, and thus his insurance company, is liable for is reduced proportionally. So if driver 1 was drunk but driver 2 was speeding, or driver 1 was speeding at 20 miles above the limit, and driver 2 was texting while driving, both drivers were negligent. If driver 1 was 80% at fault and driver 2 was 20%, driver 2 collects only 80%. (In some states ANY negligence on the part of driver 2 rules out ANY recovery. I have no idea what the laws are in the state in question.) The fact that driver 1 got a ticket and driver 2 did not is not proof of anything -- nor does it mean only driver 1 was at fault -- although tickets are used as a rule of thumb by insurance companies to assess likely responsibility. So while they have accepted primary responsibility, they want to limit the payment. They are not supposed to do that arbitrarily, and if they try it, you don't have to accept their offer. I have no idea what your son may have said to the police or claims investigator or what the facts were. (If he said "I was on the cell phone" or "I was texting" or "my windows were dirty" or "I didn't realize he didn't see me" or "I was blinded by sunlight" or has a lousy driving record, that would give them a basis to claim he was at least partially at fault.) Similarly, if there were 4 others in his car, that would lead me to think your son just may have been distracted. etc. etc.)

IF there was ANY personal injury resulting in medical treatment, loss of time from school or work, scarring, loss of function, etc. have your son see a lawyer. The property damage part of the case is often minor in comparison to the personal injury aspect. If not, and if you don't like the offer, you can always (until you accept payment) reject it and say "I am going to consult a lawyer." If they say "go ahead" you and your son could likely sue the other driver in small claims court; that sometimes gets the insurance company to up the offer, but on the other hand, sometimes it is VERY hard to prove the other driver was at fault and if they go to the trouble and expense in hiring a lawyer (rather than upping their offer -- most large insurance companies do not take kindly to threats and will spend $10 to save $1 in such cases) you may wind up with nothing if you can't prove your case -- which involves both fault and damages.