Translating Your Insurance Policy Into Plain English: The Duty To Cooperate

A standard portion of most any automobile insurance policy incltudes the language that the insured has the “duty to cooperate” with his insurer after he files a claim. Typically, this portion of the insurance policy is written along the lines that an insured individual seeking coverage must cooperate with his insurer in any matter concerning a claim or lawsuit, provide any written proof his insurer may reasonably require, and provide answers to all reasonable questions his insurer may ask (inclusive of oral statements, recorded statements, and sworn statements).

Courts in California have upheld the validity of cooperation clauses in the context of producing documentation during the claim’s presentations, submitting to an examination under oath, and answering material questions during the examination. Should an insured refuse to cooperate on matters that are either significant or trivial, the insurer may demonstrate prejudice in its inability to gather all relevant information and therefore deny the insured’s claim.

The purpose of this “duty to cooperate” clause in your insurance policy is to ensure that your insurer only be required to pay for claims covered by your policy. In short, if your policy does not cover the incident involved in your claim, your insurance company is not required to pay you for the damages. However, the facts that allow an insurance company to know whether payment is required are skewed in the insured’s favor — you know more about what happened during the incident than your insurance company does.

The duty to cooperate clause merely balances the scale. Your insurance company wants to know what you know, which gives both parties access to the same information, whereupon a decision may be made.

In practicality, the duty to cooperate is fairly straightforward: you provide information and documents which have been requested by your insurance company so that your insurer may gain a better understanding of the events that transpired. It is simple enough; your insurer is very willing to work with you on issues like vacations and timing, so don’t be afraid to talk to your insurer about anything during the information gathering period. If you do not cooperate, your insurer may have the ability to deny your claim.