When submitting a claim to an insurance company, a policyholder has certain obligations that must be followed. The insurance policy contract lists the obligations. The policy document was written by the insurance company and approved (most of the time) by the insurance regulatory agency for the state where the property is located. Insurance contracts are usually “take it or leave it” when it comes to the wording of the provisions. An insured can buy endorsements to the policy, add additional insurance, and change deductibles but the language about the coverage and the explanation of what is excluded is not something an insured can make edits or changes to for the insurance company to consider and make part of the contract.
Since the contract is one of adhesion, the insurance company usually gets the benefits of many policy provisions as company forms are being applied to a loss. In an interesting case in Georgia, a court recently ruled about the obligations of a homeowner to produce telephone call recordings.1
Ms. Elaine Armstead’s home suffered a grease fire that damaged her kitchen, her floors, and smoke filled her house. Allstate had “preferred vendors” repair the Armstead home, but Allstate under paid the claim and Allstate’s “go to” contractors caused additional damage when trying to repair the home.
During the claim process, Ms. Armstead was required under her policy to attend an Examination Under Oath. During this statement under oath, Ms. Armstead mentioned that she recorded some of her telephone conversations during the claim process with Allstate. Keep in mind, these calls were with representatives of Allstate. In addition to giving the testimony, Ms. Armstead produced a sworn statement of her damages that exceeded Allstate’s valuation of $20,000, instead claiming $76,000.00 to repair her home to the pre-loss condition.
Allstate told Ms. Armstead it wanted copies of the calls she had recorded with Allstate’s representatives. Ms. Armstead did not provide those recordings and instead sued for breach of contract and bad faith.
The federal court judge applying Georgia law held that because of the specific wording of Ms. Armstead’s insurance policy, she was not required to turn over those recordings.
Specifically, the policy stated that the insured had to provide "all accounting records, bills, invoices, and other vouchers or certified copies which we may reasonably request to examine".
Allstate tried to have the case dismissed on summary judgment because the recordings were not provided prior to the lawsuit being filed but Judge Duffy said Allstate’s reliance was misplaced. Allstate’s case law authority relied upon did not allow for the dismissal of the action.
The specific reason Ms. Armstead did not have to give over her recordings was because the policy only required her to give documents about the damages, records, bills, invoices, and vouchers.
But before another policyholder tries this same tactic, it is important to note that what is required of an insured is very specific and dependent on the wording in the policy. This policy had a limited request for documents and production during a claim—other policies ask for longer lists and many more documents.
1 Armstead v. Allstate Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., No. 1:14-cv-586, 2015 WL 2408049 (N.D. Ga., Atlanta Div. May 20, 2015).