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Prompt filing of an insurance claim following an auto accident—even when the full extent of injury is unknown—is fundamental for ensuring recovery. This is a lesson that an Iowa woman learned the hard way when the Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that her insurance company was not obligated to pay her claim because it was filed past the two-year deadline. But it is a lesson that others should take to heart, particularly considering that some injuries only become apparent months after the accident occurred.

The case decided by the Iowa Supreme Court arose out of an accident that occurred in June of 2004. Initially, the responsible driver’s insurance company paid the maximum amount allowed under that driver’s policy. With those fund exhausted and new medical evidence indicating injuries and pain greater than originally thought, the plaintiff sought to recover under her own underinsured motorist policy. And that’s when she hit a brick wall. The company—in this case Allied Property and Casualty—refused to pay because the claim wasn’t filed within two years of the crash date, and so the case ended up in the courts.

After lower courts had ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the insurance company was not obligated to pay the claim and that the 2-year contractual deadline for filing claims was reasonable and enforceable. The Court apparently considered some public policy issues, citing the risk of skyrocketing insurance premiums in Iowa if it failed to enforce contractual terms.

The case serves as an important reminder for accident victims to be aware of the terms of their policy and to take preventive measures to ensure that deadlines are met. For example, in Iowa it is common for policyholders to file claims with their own insurer immediately following an accident—even if it is anticipated that the responsible driver’s insurer will pay. Simply filing the claim ensures that it will fall within the contractual deadline. Attorneys as well can protect their clients’ interest by filing last minute pleadings in order to preserve claims.

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