Insured Refuses to Give Examination Under Oath – No Coverage

What is the consequence of a refusal to give an examination under oath to your  Tennessee automobile insurance insurer?  Your policy can be rendered void.

The facts.

Ponnapula was in a car wreck with Mr. Wright.  It appears there was not any liability insurance on the vehicle being driven by Mr. Wright.  Mr. Ponnapula made a claim against his own uninsured/underinsured motorist insurer, Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company.

Tennessee Farmers asked Ponnapula to give an examination under oath.   Ponnapula did not appear for the scheduled examination and did not appear at a second date extended for that purpose. He also refused a request that he provide his tax returns. Several months later Ponnapula filed a lawsuit against the at-fault driver and properly put Tennessee Farmers on notice of the case.

Tennessee Farmers later filed summary judgment, arguing that Ponnapula materially breached his obligations by not providing a pre-suit examination under oath and filing a lawsuit against Tennessee Farmers before doing so.  Tennessee Farmers asserted that Ponnapula’s failure to provide an examination oath violated the duty to cooperate imposed by the UM/UIM insurance policy and thus the policy benefits were not available to him. The trial judge granted Tennessee Farmers summary judgment and dismissed the case.

The opinion of the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s ruling in  Ponnapula v. Wright, No.  W2023-00703-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 5, 2024). The opinion discusses at length the duty to cooperate with one’s own insurer and the consequences for not doing so.   The Court then summarized the basis for its ruling by the following: 

Mr. Ponnapula was given multiple opportunities to comply with the
requests of Tennessee Farmers in processing his claim. During this time, he was informed that there was no settlement agreement between the parties. Furthermore, two representatives from Tennessee Farmers reminded Mr. Ponnapula of his duty to cooperate under the insurance policy and that his failure to do so could result in the denial of his claim. Much like the Spears appellants, although Mr. Ponnapula cooperated at first, i.e., provided certain medical bills, he initially refused to sign a HIPAA release, refused to
provide his tax returns, and repeatedly refused to submit to an examination under oath before filing the underlying lawsuit, which led to the denial of his claim.

Id. at 13.

The Court of Appeals rejected Pannopula’s argument that the insurance company needed to show prejudice before it could deny benefits under the policy for breach of the duty-to-cooperate clause.  Why?  Because his lawyer did not properly raise the issue on appeal as required by Rule 27(a)(4) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure.

(Click on the link for another example of how your UM/UIM car insurance may not be applicable to wreck even though the at-fault driver is not insured.)


Most motor vehicle insurance companies include a provision in their insurance policy that requires that their insureds cooperate with them.  The duty often includes the duty of the insured to give an examination under oath at the request of the insurer.  As the insured found out in this case, the failure to comply with the policy can have devastating consequences.

Of course, the insurance company must exercise good faith in setting a date for the examination under oath.  If the date originally set by the insurer for the examination under oath is not convenient, reasonable efforts should be made to re-schedule it.  It is important that those efforts should be documented in case there is a dispute over whether the insured complied with his or her obligations under the policy.

The request for tax returns raises an interesting issue.  The court did not discuss whether a claim for loss of income was made by the insured.  In my mind, if no claim for loss of income was made, a request for financial information such as tax returns would not be reasonable.  Even if a request for lost income was made by the insured, I do not think that the insurance company would be entitled to the tax returns.   Instead, the company would be entitled to proof of income, which for most people is a copy of their W-2 form.

One last point.  The duty to give an examination under oath to your own insurer does not mean that you must give one without the assistance of a lawyer.  I strongly recommend that anyone who is asked to give an examination under oath seek the help of an experienced lawyer.  He or she can prepare you and reduce the likelihood that you will make errors  which will harm your claim or case.



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