The following article is the seventh in a series of 9 articles that explain the different concepts involved in insurance policies as they relate to personal injury in automobile accidents. This article discusses filing suit against an insurance company directly without including the insurance policy holder in the lawsuit.
Direct Actions Against Insurance Companies
Some states, including Georgia, have statutes that allow an injured party to file suit directly against the insurance policy carrier, leaving the insured policy holder out of the legal proceedings entirely.
The prevalent general rule is that an automobile insurance company is not allowed to be made a named defendant to a lawsuit against the insurance policy holder, unless it is allowable through statute or by the policy itself. This is because there is no contract between the insurance company and the injured party in an accident. The contract is between the insurance company and the policy holder.
Many states have rules that allow direct action against an insurance company. These rules are referred to as “direct action statutes.” These statutes are sometimes limited in their scope to cover only automobile accidents, cases in which it is shown that the policy holder is bankrupt or insolvent, or may have a requirement that the injured party first obtain a judgment against the policy holder prior to taking action directly against the insurance company.
For purposes of this series on car accidents, the most common direct action is when a car accident involves a tractor-trailer, bus, or other large commercial vehicle. In those cases, the insurance company can be named along with the motor carrier company that owns the tractor trailer or the bus.
Georgia’s “direct action” laws come from three statutes
First is O.C.G.A. § 40-2-140. This statute involves Georgia’s administration of the federal Unified Carrier Registration Act of 2005. This law states:
“Any person having a cause of action, whether arising in tort or contract, under this Code section may join in the same cause of action the motor carrier and its insurance carrier.”
Second, a “motor carrier” is defined under Georgia law at O.C.G.A. § 40-2-1(6) as:
“(A) Any entity subject to the terms of the Unified Carrier Registration Agreement pursuant to 49 U.S.C. Section 14504a whether engaged in interstate or intrastate commerce, or both; or
(B) Any entity defined by the commissioner or commissioner of public safety who operates or controls commercial motor vehicles as defined in 49 C.F.R. Section 390.5 or this chapter whether operated in interstate or intrastate commerce, or both.”
Third, O.C.G.A. § 40-1-112 states:
“It shall be permissible under this part for any person having a cause of action arising under this part to join in the same action the motor carrier and the insurance carrier, whether arising in tort or contract.”
In other words, the “direct action” statutes under Georgia law allow a plaintiff to sue a the insurance company directly, meaning the insurance company is named the lawsuit and the judge and jury are aware that an insurance company is able to pay any damages awarded to a person injured by the commercial vehicle owner.
In Georgia, a direct action most commonly refers to filing suit against an insurance company instead of just the person that actually caused the car accident. There are important policy reasons for this, including the fact that the insurance company is often directly involved in the hiring, screening, and training of commercial vehicle drivers. To learn more about how car insurance works in Georgia, click on one of the following links:
- When Can I Recover from Someone’s Else’s Insurance?
- The Declarations Page
- Duty to Defend
- Reservation of Rights
- Bad Faith
- Commercial General Liability
- Direct Actions Against Insurance Companies (this article)
- Uninsured Motorists
- Underinsured Motorists