What Is a “Holt Demand” under Georgia Personal Injury Law?
Like all civil and criminal laws in America, insurance law in Georgia is controlled by statutes enacted by the Georgia Legislature relating to conduct of automobile liability insurance carriers and general liability insurers. Since the Pandemic in the Spring of 2020, the use of a Holt demand has become more important than ever.
Because Georgia laws want our courts not to be clogged with needless litigation, the Georgia General Assembly has (for decades) created sanctions for insurers who callously ignore or “low-ball” claimants who are willing to settle for the policy limits (or less). These legal rules pertain to an insurer's duty to expeditiously settle personal injury law claims for wrongful injury or causing death through negligence without the necessity of those injured having to file suit and go to trial.
The changes required after the COVID-19 outbreak have altered jury trial availability forever. As will be covered below, Georgia laws provide a framework and mechanism for claimants and insurers to reach settlements and resolve tort cases without filing suit and “going to court” for their resolution.
Georgia Insurance Law That Governs Personal Injury Claims
Statutes like this, when enacted, form the framework for “rules” of conduct within which the Georgia General Assembly wants insurers to follow. Like all statutes, criminal or civil, when a dispute about how such laws are to be interpreted arises, litigation goes before a trial court judge in a court of record (superior court or state court) who makes rulings, interpreting what the statutes say, when applied to the case facts in that litigation.
Next, if the other party against whom the ruling applies pursues an appeal to our Georgia appellate courts, a reported, published appeal opinion is written that clarifies, modifies or elaborates upon the meaning of the Legislature's statutes. Such published rulings create legal precedent, and thereafter govern how a Georgia insurance law is to be applied.
How a Holt Demand Georgia Affects Civil Litigation
A Holt demand relates to favorable insurance laws that encourage pre-trial settlement by parties involved in litigating personal injury cases in GA. Once such statute is under O.C.G.A. Section 9-11-67.1, entitled, “Offer to Settle Tort Claim must be in Writing; terms.”
The landmark case that set forth these rules was Southern General Insurance Company v. Holt, 262 Ga. 267 (1992). However, many other Georgia statutes on insurance laws and cases interpreting OCGA 9-11-67.1 in Georgia have adjudicated and established other related principles, so that insurers know when and how various types of pre-suit claims need to be promptly resolved within the policy limits.
One federal court in Georgia chastised the insurance company for seeking a declaratory judgment that they had not acted in bad faith, but lost the case:
“As previously noted, the issue for determination in a bad faith failure to settle action is whether the conduct of the insurance company, under all of the relevant circumstances, demonstrates that it acted in bad faith in its handling of the claims presented to it. An indicator of that bad faith is the extent to which the insurer favored its own interest over the interest of its insured.” State Auto Property and Casualty Company v. Griffin, 212 WL 1940797 (M.D. Ga., 2012).
So, when an insurer receives a Holt demand letter, and is thereby given a pretrial, pre-lawsuit opportunity to settle injury claims for which the liability coverage is clearly going to be insufficient to totally compensate the aggrieved parties, Georgia law provides that an insurer that acts in bad faith can be on the hook for MORE THAN its stated policy limits.
Personal Injury Litigation Holt Law Settlement
Following the loss of a key family member, relatives of the deceased may have funeral proceedings to organize or insurance policies to track down. At the same time, they must try to offer consoling support for those who are grieving. It is often difficult to maintain emotional control.
A death caused by negligence is always a very tragic event. When a wrongful death occurs, legal procedures and evidence preservation rules need to be followed. Where liability exists for a suit against a third party, a skilled wrongful death attorney can help the victim's family send out the appropriate demand letters, and (when necessary) file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death cases can be difficult, confusing, and highly emotional undertakings for a victim's family members. This is one of the most important aspects of hiring the right lawyer --- to stand by you to see this legal notification process is handled correctly.
Contact Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer William C. Head Today
Starting in 1962, several hotly contested appeals involving State Farm insurance company were litigated to determine the “rules” applicable to the insurer having to pay an excess judgment and costs, after bad faith refusal to settle.
These multiple federal court appeal cases (interpreting the bad faith Georgia law in place at that time) established the legal cause of action for recovery against an insurance company that stubbornly failed to settle claims with injured parties or for families of persons who had died. Smoot v. State Farm, 381 F.2d 331 (5th Cir. 1967). This famous Fifth Circuit decision rendered before the State of Georgia was realigned into the 11th Circuit.
The Insurance Company's Risk of an Excess Judgment, Plus Court Costs and Other Fees
This exposure to an excess judgment amount presupposes that the civil litigation later exceeds the reasonable, prior pre-suit settlement demand letter's dollar amount. Georgia laws on liability insurance consider that the claimant and his or her Atlanta injury lawyer gave the insurer a fair time limit (not less than ten days) to remit the money. And when that chance to settle was rejected, bad faith is implied. Typically, attorneys will allow 30 days, to permit the various levels of insurance company approvals to be made for the settlement amount.
Such “Holt demands” need to include all statutory details of the offer and give a monetary “number” for that insurance carrier to pay out to those injured or killed, to resolve the case without trial. Plus, that letter should be sent by certified mail (or other method whereby proof of delivery is irrefutable), to be able to establish receipt by the insurer.
Georgia law outlines not only mandates proper documentation of costs and medical diagnosis, but calls for the demand letter to explain precisely what the negligent party receives in exchange for settling pre-suit (e.g., a LLR, or “limited liability release”.) It is also essential that such monetary number be within the at-fault party's or parties' stated policy limits.
Why a Personal Injury Attorney Experienced and Skilled in Pre-Trial Settlements Is Needed
The paperwork going back and forth between the claimant (and his or her Georgia attorneys) and the insurance company can be critical for a court to determine if a pre-trial “agreement” has been reached. One recent appeals case in Georgia, based on the legal principles in Holt and Smoot, stated this legal maxim:
Compromises of doubtful rights are upheld by general policy, as tending to prevent litigation, in all enlightened systems of jurisprudence. In considering the enforceability of an alleged settlement agreement, however, a trial court is obviously limited to those terms upon which the parties themselves have mutually agreed. Benton v. Gailey, 334 Ga.App. 548 (2015).
Time is of the essence for tort claims, whether in a car accident or other civil wrong case. Missing a statute of limitations or failing to send the proper ante litem notice to a city or county government can cause the claim to be lost.
In many cases, using pre-suit demands for policy limits in a Holt demand will obtain the highest recovery possible for a client, when limited resources exist beyond insurance proceeds. This is a function of two variables: (1) the time-value of money and (2) the most favorable contingency fee percentages prior to litigation and pre-trial case settlement efforts and related costs starting.
Contact a personal injury attorney Atlanta today for a FREE lawyer consultation. 404.567.5515.
Our MAIN OFFICE is located at 5590 Roswell Road, Suite 210, Sandy Springs, GA 30342, but (for injured clients or for grieving family members whose loved one has died due to negligence of others), our lawyers near me in Georgia will come to you.