Barker Martin

Condo-HOA Blog

Read Your Insurance Policy, It Is Your Duty!

Every American likely knows that the United States Constitution grants them certain unalienable rights. But, how many Americans know that the same Constitution imposes certain duties on American citizens? Among these duties are to: support and defend the Constitution; comply with the terms of legal contracts, tell the truth under oath, serve on juries, and help enforce laws and practices that are constitutional. Shockingly, there is no duty to read your insurance policy. Before you relax believing that you have one less thing to worry about, some courts do impose a duty to read one's insurance policy. For instance, under Wyoming law, "an insured has a duty to read his or her insurance policy."W.N. McMurry Const. Co. v. Community First Ins., Inc. Wyo., 2007 WY 96 (Wyo. 2007). The court went on to hold that "a failure to read one's insurance contract presents an absolute bar to recovery under contract and tort claims."

Most of you reading this are probably not in Wyoming. So what about Oregon and Washington? Do Oregonians and Washingtonians have the same duty? The answer is "sort of." In Oregon, there is no specific duty to read the policy. An insured has a right to rely on the expertise of its agent and to assume that its agent performed its duty. Precision Castparts Corp. v. Johnson & Higgins of Oregon, Inc., 44 OrApp 739 (1980). However, an insured's failure to read the insurance policy can and will be considered by a jury in deciding whether an insured has comparative fault if a policy does not meet up with an insured's expectations or instructions. Martini v. Beaverton Ins. Agency, Inc., 314 Or 200 (1992). In Washington, an insured does have a duty to read a policy, but "that does not negate a broker's duty in an appropriate case."AAS-DMP Management, LP Liquidating Trust v. Accordia Northwest, Inc., 115 Wash App 833 (2003).

Does your policy cover your brand new Porsche? How about your liability if a passenger gets hurt on your boat? Are you a contractor building houses with an insurance policy that excludes multi-family housing? Are you covered if your house or condo suffers a collapse? Have you read your policy to know whether you have the coverage you want and thought you paid for? If not, it might be a good idea to read your policies. An insured cannot blindly rely on his or her insurance agent to make sure they are adequately covered. While the Constitution does not impose a duty to read an insurance policy, a court just might.

My advice? Obtain your policies and read them. The law does not require you to be an expert, but most people can spot obvious mistakes that unfortunately happen all too often in insurance policies. If you see a mistake or gap in coverage, ask your agent or your attorney about it. If you end up with an uncovered accident, you don't want to be the one left holding the bag.