Georgia Automobile Law Update

On May 4, 2021, the Georgia Governor signed House Bill 714, substantially modifying O.C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1, the offer of settlement statute, as well as O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(j), the bad faith provision of the Uninsured Motorist statute. These changes will affect the handling of Georgia automobile accident claims accruing on or after July 1, 2021.

C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1

House Bill 714 revised and provided new requirements under the Georgia Civil Practice Act, O.C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1, relating to requirements regarding settlement offers and agreements for tort claims for personal injury, bodily injury, and death:

C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1(a) – Change in the Application Trigger

The current version of the statute sets forth the requirements of written offers to settle injury or death claims arising from the use of a motor vehicle which were prepared by or with the assistance of an attorney and sent prior to filing suit. The new statute will apply to written offers to settle injury or death claims arising from motor vehicle accidents which were prepared by or with the assistance of an attorney and sent prior to the filing an answer.

C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1(a)(1)(D) – Change Regarding Terms of Release

The current statute requires that the offer to settle state “the type of release, if any, the claimant or claimants will provide to each releasee.”  The new statute requires that the demand state, “For any type of release, whether the release is full or limited and an itemization of what the claimant or claimants will provide to each releasee.”

C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1(a)(2) – New Medical Record Requirement

The new statute adds a brand new requirement that the demand “shall include medical or other records in the offeror’s possession incurred as a result of the subject claim that are sufficient to allow the recipient to evaluate the claim.”

C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1(a)(3) – New Statement of Insurance Requirement

The new statute adds brand new language that a demand “May include a term requiring that in order to settle the claim the recipient shall provide the offeror a statement, under oath, regarding whether all liability and casualty insurance issued by the recipient that provides coverage or that may provide coverage for the claim at issue has been disclosed to the offeror.” [emphasis added].

C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1(b)(1) – New Language Limiting Other Terms

The new statute adds brand new language that provides, “Unless otherwise agreed by both the offeror and the recipients in writing, the terms outlined in subsection (a) of this Code section shall be the only terms which can be included in an offer to settle made under this Code Section.”

C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1(d) – Changes to Language Regarding Right to Seek Clarification of Release

The new statute adds language that makes clear the recipient of the demand has a right to seek clarification regarding “the terms of the release.”  However, it adds the requirement that “An attempt to seek reasonable clarification shall be in writing…” [emphasis added]. Finally, it adds brand new language that provides, “In addition, if a release is not provided with an offer to settle, a recipient’s providing of a proposed release shall not be deemed a counteroffer.”

C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1(e) – New Terms Regarding How Demand Must Be Sent

This Code section already has existing requirements that an offer of settlement be sent via certified mail or statutory overnight delivery, return receipt requested and must reference the Code Section. The new statute adds a brand new requirement that the offer of settlement “shall include an address or a facsimile number or email address to which a written acceptance… may be provided.”

 C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1(g) – Changes to Terms Regarding Delivery of Check

The current statute permits the offeror to require payment within a specified period, but not less than ten days after the written acceptance of the offer to settle.  The new statute changes this to provide that the offeror may not require payment “less than 40 days from the receipt of the offer.”

C.G.A. § 33-7-11(j)

House Bill 714 also revises the “bad faith penalty” as to uninsured motorist carriers found in O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(j).

The current statute provides that if an uninsured motorist carrier refuses to pay an insured for a covered loss within 60 days after a statutorily compliant demand is made by the insured, and a finding is made that such a refusal was made in bad faith, the “insurer shall be liable to the insured in addition to any recovery under this Code section for not more than 25 percent of the recovery and all reasonable attorney’s fees for the prosecution of the case under this Code section.”

The new statute provides that the “insurer shall be liable to the insured in addition to any recovery under this Code section for not more than 25 percent of the recovery or $25,000.00, whichever is greater, and all reasonable attorney’s fees for the prosecution of the case under this Code section.” [emphasis added].

The full bill can be found on the Georgia General Assembly website.