How Proposition 213 Affects the Legal Rights of Drivers
When California voters passed Proposition 213, also called the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996, they limited the right of uninsured drivers, inebriated drivers, and felons to sue and recover damages for injuries and harm caused by automobile accidents. Before this law was passed, any driver who was injured in a car accident could sue the responsible, at-fault party for economic losses (like lost wages) and non economic losses (such as pain and suffering). Proposition 213 punished drivers who lack insurance by ruling that law-breaking motorists can sue law-abiding motorists for economic damages only, regardless of who caused the accident. As a result, law-abiding, insured citizens saw their insurance rates drop as insurance payouts were reduced.
The Reasoning Behind Proposition 213
Many organizations, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the California Police Chiefs Association, the Peace Officers Research Association of California, and the CHP’s California Association of Highway Patrolmen, supported the passage of Prop 213 on the grounds that it would encourage responsible driving. While the law may potentially reduce the number of automobile accidents that result in injuries and fatalities, many people argue that insurance companies disproportionately benefit most from Proposition 213. Shifting responsibility for damage to drivers decreases the overall compensation insurance companies must pay to involved parties when automobile accidents happen. Others believe that Prop 213 unjustly penalizes poor and financially insecure drivers as well as drivers who inadvertently allow their insurance to lapse by unintentionally missing payments. Nevertheless, Proposition 213 is law in California, so it is in drivers’ best interests to understand how it works and recognize exceptions that may benefit them in the case of an automobile accident.
How Exceptions to Proposition 213 Affect a Driver’s Ability to Sue
Drivers and owners of vehicles that are involved in an automobile accident bear the most responsibility for its consequences. Prop 213 bars drivers who lack insurance from claiming compensation for noneconomic damages from insurance companies, even when they are not at fault. This means that uninsured or otherwise criminal drivers who suffer disfigurement, emotional distress, chronic pain, social consequences, and other impairments may not be able to seek compensation for these conditions. Although Proposition 213 was intended to punish law-breaking drivers, its shortcomings created the potential for otherwise blameless citizens to face unintended consequences. Therefore, certain exceptions protect drivers and other parties from penalties in unusual circumstances.
Licensed Drivers Who Borrow Their Employer’s Vehicle
If a driver who lacks insurance borrows their employer’s vehicle, gets involved in an accident, and suffers an injury as a direct result, they may be entitled to sue the at-fault party to recover economic and noneconomic losses. For instance, a worker who is hit by another car and injured while running an unscheduled errand for the boss may be compensated for inconvenience, pain, and suffering in addition to lost wages and medical expenses incurred.
Licensed Drivers Who Have Insurance for a Different Vehicle
Licensed drivers who borrow a car that is not insured and subsequently get involved in an accident may be exempt from Prop 13 if they hold an insurance policy for a different vehicle. The law will regard the driver as an insured party regardless of who owns the vehicle being driven. For instance, if an otherwise insured driver borrows a car without knowing that it is not covered by insurance and is subsequently rear-ended at a stoplight, then the driver may be able to sue the at-fault party for economic and noneconomic damages.
Passengers in a Vehicle That Is Not Insured
Passengers are not subject to Proposition 213, so they may recover both economic and noneconomic damages if they are injured as the direct result of an accident. If a sick person asks a friend who lacks insurance to drive them to the hospital, and they end up in an accident that results in injury, then the sick passenger may still be able to recover noneconomic damages from the at-fault party. However, when the owner of an uninsured vehicle is a passenger at the time of an accident and said vehicle is operated by a driver who lacks insurance, the owner may be barred from seeking noneconomic damages. All passengers who are injured in automobile accidents should contact a personal injury attorney to determine their right to fair compensation.
When a driver who lacks insurance is killed in an automobile accident, surviving passengers and next-of-kin can sue to recover damages. In the case of wrongful death, surviving passengers can sue the at-fault party for economic and noneconomic compensation. Suppose a spouse or child loses a loved one in an accident, and that loved one was a driver who lacked insurance. The aggrieved family member can sue the at-fault driver for noneconomic compensation, while immediate family members may sue for “loss of care, comfort, and society.”
Accidents on Private Property
Proposition 213 may not apply to any driver who is involved in a car accident on a privately owned road. The law requires drivers to have auto liability insurance on public roads but makes no such requirement or provision for private roads. This means that drivers who lack insurance can sue an at-fault party for economic and noneconomic compensation if they are injured in an accident on a private road.
Drunk or Chemically Impaired Drivers
When a driver who lacks insurance is injured as a direct result of a collision with a licensed, insured drunk driver, the injured driver may be entitled to recover economic and noneconomic damages if the drunk driver is at fault. The law will not penalize the driver who lacks insurance for the at-fault, drunk driver’s negligence. Since a driver who causes an accident as a result of an illegal chemical impairment is not law-abiding, the blame shifts to reflect the seriousness of the violation that caused the accident.
If a driver who lacks insurance is involved in a collision and sustains injuries that are exacerbated by an automobile manufacturer’s product defect, then the injured driver may be entitled to compensation for noneconomic damages from that manufacturer. Suppose that a driver who lacks insurance is sideswiped. The driver is not at fault but suffers injuries as a direct result of the incident. If a vehicle defect, such as a malfunctioning airbag, seat belt, or door latch, causes or worsens the uninsured driver’s injury, then the driver may be entitled to recover economic and noneconomic damages from the automobile manufacturer via a product liability lawsuit. The at-fault party would not be required to pay damages.
If a driver who lacks insurance is injured as the direct result of an accident that is worsened by defective road conditions such as loose gravel, potholes, damaged guardrails, or missing or malfunctioning signage, the driver may be exempt from Proposition 213. For instance, if a car involved in a collision skids, flips, or ignites after the initial impact due to an improperly graded road surface, and the activity causes additional injury or trauma, they may be able to sue to recover noneconomic damages. Regardless of road conditions, the civil code may prevent drivers who lack insurance from recovering noneconomic damages from a government entity due to negligence. Any driver who has been injured in an accident that involved a damaged roadway should contact a personal injury lawyer regarding fair compensation for injuries incurred.
Drivers Can Protect Their Right to Recover Damages
Drivers who lack insurance should not assume that they have no right to recover noneconomic damages when they are injured in a car accident that is someone else’s fault. There are other exceptions to Proposition 213 involving community property and details of ownership can be difficult for a layperson to understand fully, so it helps to enlist the services of a car accident attorney to review all the details pertaining to any accident. Even if Proposition 213 can prevent drivers from seeking compensation for pain and suffering, they may still be entitled to recover the expenses incurred from lost wages, medical bills, and damage to their cars due to the negligence of the at-fault driver.
If you have been injured in an automobile accident, you should seek legal assistance that protects your rights. The car accident attorneys at JT Legal Group are here to help you receive the maximum compensation you deserve for the harm suffered as a result of your collision. Our consultations are free, and you pay nothing unless we win the case. Give us a call so you can receive the compensation you deserve.