Is Mailed Notice of a Policy Change Sufficient? A PA Jury Will Decide.

A jury is set to determine whether the addition of a “household exclusion” provision in an automobile insurance policy rises to the level of a material change, such that it would require proof that the insured was notified of and understood the change to his subsequent coverage.  In Oesterling v. Allstate Insurance, the plaintiff, Robert Oesterling, was injured in a 2006 accident involving his motor scooter which was not covered under his Allstate insurance policy. Though his original 1998 policy did not include a household exclusion, it was incorporated into the terms of his policy in 2005, and he received notice in the mail which he now contests was inadequate.

When faced with the issue, Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas M. Piccione distinguished cases where an insured specifically requests a level of coverage that was unilaterally reduced at a later point in time, from those where the insured failed to read the policy with the detail necessary to discover regular exclusions.  The judge noted that although Oesterling’s original 1998 policy would have provided him with coverage for his accident, the household exclusion served to block coverage for vehicles not specifically covered under the policy, including his motor scooter. While Allstate notified Oesterling of the change to his policy in a mailer with “Important Notice” printed in large, bold font and the mailer clearly and unambiguously expressed the addition of the household exclusion provision, and instructed Oesterling to read the relevant changes and contact his insurance agent if he was confused or needed clarification, the court ruled that a jury must decide whether an “Important Notice” advisory notice was legally sufficient to change the scope of coverage.

Special thanks to Samantha Berman for her contributions to this post.  For more information, please contact Bob Cosgrove at rcosgrove@wcmlaw.com.