(Note: This Guest Blog is by Corey Harris, an attorney with Merlin Law Group in the Tampa, Florida, office. This is the fifth of a twelve part series he is writing on proof of loss).
Let me begin here by saying that this is only intended to be a general overview of some of the instances where an insurance company may have waived its Proof of Loss requirement. Determining whether a waiver has indeed occurred is usually very fact specific and can vary in different jurisdictions. Proof of Loss requirements under the National Flood Insurance Program, for instance, are very strict and allow waiver only in very limited circumstances. Thus, any waiver questions should be viewed and analyzed on a case by case basis.
With that said, it is important to note that, as I discussed in a previous post, What is a Proof of Loss, and What Purpose Does it Serve?, the Proof of Loss requirement protects the insurer. It helps the insurer gain a clearer perspective on the scope of the loss and aids it in determining coverage issues. This protection, like many other policy provisions designed to protect the insurer, can sometimes be waived. When this waiver occurs, the policy is read as if the Proof requirement has been struck from the contract.
There is a split of authority on when waiver may occur, if at all. Some courts have held that for waiver to be effective the insurer must do so before the end of the time period for filing the Proof, in accordance with an applicable policy provision or statute. In other circumstances, such as when a claim has been denied, some courts have found that waiver can occur outside of the normal 60 day period. See Connecticut Fire Ins. Co. v. Fox, 361 F.2d 1 (10th Cir. 1966). Either way, anyone involved in a claim should keep a thorough timeline detailing all statements and actions which might give rise to a claim for waiver so that it can be more easily determined when the waiver was actually effectuated.
There are generally two ways by which an insurer can waive a Proof of Loss requirement. First, the insurer may expressly waive the requirement either verbally or in writing. Second, waiver may be implied from an act or pattern of conduct by the insurer or its authorized agents that reasonably tends to create a belief in the mind of the policyholder that Proofs of Loss will be unnecessary.
Because of the breadth of information on both express and implied waiver, I have decided to break this down into a two week section. This week, I will focus on express, and next week we will delve into implied.
An insurer can expressly notify the insured in writing or verbally of its intent to waive the requirement. There are many reasons why an insurer may want to waive the Proof of Loss requirement, but, as with many other aspects of a claim, it is always a good idea for the insured to obtain a written confirmation. This can help head off any attempt by the insurer to later deny that the waiver occurred. Also, many policies state that no policy provision may be waived except by written agreement or endorsement. If this is the case, you should make every effort to get the waiver in writing. Doing this follow up could make all the difference in a claim and could prevent a plethora of headaches as you go forward.
There are some jurisdictions, however, which have held that such language may not prevent an insurer from orally waiving the Proof requirements. One Colorado case, for instance, stated:
The plaintiff here has raised the issues of waiver and estoppel in his summary judgment pleadings. Although timely compliance is generally a condition precedent to the insurer’s liability, a satisfactory excuse for noncompliance may be shown. Capital Fixture & Supply Co. v. National Fire Insurance Co., 131 Colo. 64, 279 P.2d 435 (1955). A subsequent waiver of the conditions would constitute a valid excuse. Thus, there exists a genuine issue of fact as to whether plaintiff was induced by an agent of defendant to delay his filings.
Defendant argues that such a result is precluded here as a matter of law because the policy required all waivers to be in writing. We disagree.
The question of whether a provision in an insurance contract requiring all waivers to be in writing applies to post-loss conditions was settled definitively as early as 1931. Concordia Insurance Co. v. School District No. 98, 282 U.S. 545, 51 S.Ct. 275, 75 L.Ed. 528 (1931). In Concordia, the Supreme Court held that non-waiver provisions “ha[ve] reference to those provisions and conditions which constitute part of the contract of insurance and [do] not apply to a waiver, after the loss occurs, of stipulations in respect of things to be done subsequent to the loss as prerequisites to adjustment and payment.” The overwhelming majority of modern cases follow the Concordia rule. See 5 S. Williston, Contracts § 766 (W. Jaeger 3d ed. 1961).
We are in accord with the Concordia rule and its rationale as expressed in the Tenth Circuit court opinion. In fact, it applies with special strength here, because the language of the non-waiver provision construed in Concordia does not differ in any significant way from the provision construed here. Thus, we hold that the contract’s requirements for submitting a proof of loss statement and for filing suit could be waived, even in the absence of a writing, because they were both conditions required to be performed after the loss occurred.
Circle C Beef Co. v. Home Ins. Co., 654 P.2d 869 (Colo. Ct. App. 1982).
This case, and others like it, may afford some important protection to policyholders in various jurisdictions, however, this protection is not certain. Some jurisdictions will hold that any waiver that is not in writing is not effective, and therefore, failing to get a written confirmation of the insurer’s waiver could be problematic to a claim.
So what is the best course of action? Of course, if at all possible, file the Proof of Loss! However, be aware that there may be some circumstance where the requirement may be waived.