Obligation to Cooperate in Motor Vehicle Insurance
Most automobile insurance policies have a clause that requires an insured to cooperate with the insurance company. The cooperation clause, also known as the cooperation and assistance provision, requires an insured to act in a manner that does not obstruct an insurance company’s handling of a claim against an insurance policy. Further, the cooperation clause seeks to stop insureds and claimants from acting together against insurance companies. To breach the cooperation clause, an insured’s obstructive conduct must be willful and must prejudice the insurance company.
To breach the insured’s duty to cooperate, courts have said that an insured’s conduct must be “willful and avowed obstruction.” The insured cannot misrepresent facts or change his or her story about the claim so as to make the insurance company’s defense of the case purposefully difficult. An insured’s willful refusal to verify an answer or the facts of a claim could breach the cooperation provision. An insured’s deliberate lie about material facts is a violation of the cooperation clause.
If an insured’s conduct does not materially threaten the insurance company’s rights, there is no breach of the cooperation clause. The failure of an insured to cooperate with the insurance company may be excused if it is the result of a mistake and it is without bad faith on the part of the insured. The cooperation clause does not require an insured to join with an insurance company to present a false defense to a lawsuit.
If an insurance company alleges that an insured was uncooperative, the insurance company must prove the breach of the duty to cooperate. Further, the insurance company must show that it tried to get the insured to cooperate and that the insured’s uncooperativeness was willful. Finally, the insurance company must show that because of the breach of the cooperation clause it was unable to raise a genuine defense or was otherwise prejudiced in the lawsuit brought against it or the insured.