Offer of Underinsured Motorist Coverage Should be in Spanish

Insurance-Right of Spanish Speaker to be Offered Underinsured/Unisured Motorist Coverage in Spanish

Ballesteros v. American Standard Insurance Co., 572 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 22 (App., Div. II, December 23, 2009) (J. Vasquez)

OFFER OF UM & UIM INSURANCE MAY NOT REASONABLY APPRISE INSURED WHAT IS BEING OFFERED IF NOT IN SPANISH

Spanish is the primary language of the insured. He purchased automobile insurance from American Standard and signed a form written only in English rejecting an offer of UM and UIM coverage. He later made an uninsured motorist claim when his mother in law, an insured under the policy was allegedly killed by an uninsured motorist. American Standard denied coverage on the basis UM coverage had been rejected. The insured sued claiming the offer of UIM must be reasonably understood by him and since he primarily speaks Spanish the form in English did not effectively offer him the coverage.

Arizona Revised Statute 29-259.01 requires insureds be reasonably apprised of the right to purchase UM and UIM coverage. The Court of Appeals noted the statute is remedial and should be “liberally construed to carry out the will of the legislature” to protect the public from uninsured and underinsured motorists. Although the statute allows that carriers can use a form approved by the Department of Insurance as was done here, where that form is only in English it may not “reasonably inform the insured of the written offer's contents” where the insured's primary language is Spanish. Here a fact question exits as to whether this insured “reasonably understood” what was being offered. The insured may present evidence of his inability to understand English and the insurer may put on evidence that it is its custom and practice to translate verbally the form in Spanish to Spanish speaking insureds and the jury will ultimately decide if the offer was reasonably communicated and understood by the insured.

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