Picture this: When stopped at a red light in San Francisco, you get rear-ended. Like hundreds of other car crashes happening across the U.S. every day, this fender-bender causes minor damage to the rear bumper of your car, and leaves your arm and shoulder hurting where they were smashed against the steering wheel. An open and shut case? Not in this instance, because due to an unfortunate and forgetful lapse in payment, you were uninsured at the time of the crash. Although the sum of your accident-related expenses are covered by the driver at fault – including car repairs and your medical bills for physical therapy – you’re also forced to miss a few days of work, and miss out on a big account. This causes your reputation around the office to take a hit, and you start having trouble sleeping. You begin exploring a broader claim against the at-fault driver to compensate your pain and suffering, but to your surprise, California law has cut you off from noneconomic ‘general’ damages. The culprit? California Proposition 213
Known at the time of its referendum passage as the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996, Proposition 213 followed major PR push by the car insurance industry, and by California voters faced with the prospect of the reverse of the scenario above: What if an automobile accident was the fault of an uninsured driver? The result would be an accident for which the victim would escape not just injured but uncompensated. California voters’ solution was to penalize drivers without car insurance, a group often identified as comprised of predominantly poorer drivers, through limiting the damage exposure of parties ‘at fault’ (and potential recrimination of uninsured victims) to economic damages alone. This means that uninsured individuals who were not at fault for a car accident were cut off from compensation paid for their pain, suffering, physical impairment, inconvenience, emotional anguish, worsening of prior injuries, or for any other claims for ‘subjective’ damages to which they might have other otherwise been entitled.
Let’s take a step back. At 26 million, California is home to the largest number of licensed drivers in the U.S., and has a deeply-infused automotive culture – as well as endemic highway traffic and gridlock – to match. Owing perhaps as much to the pace and density of its urban automobile-focused life as to a lack of viable alternative transportation options, the Golden State is also home to the nation’s highest number of reported automobile accidents, at nearly 500,000 fender-benders in 2016, from which 275,000 injuries and nearly 4,000 deaths resulted. While no federal law requires drivers to purchase liability insurance, California mandates that its drivers purchase and maintain a certain minimal level (Bodily Injury and Property Damage liability coverage). That said, the type of insurance which would cover the accident-related property and personal damages incurred by a motorist without insurance – Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury [UMBI] and Uninsured Motorist Property Damage [UMPD] coverage – are not currently mandated, even though they would certainly solve the problem due to which California voters chose to penalize (in Prop 213) those low-income residents unable to afford auto insurance.
UMPD insurance pays for injuries caused in car accidents when an uninsured driver is at fault (like in a ‘hit and run’), and UMBI pays when cars or other property is damaged by an uninsured (or insufficiently insured) driver. Both forms of UM insurance stand to compensate for lost wages due to injury deemed the fault of an uninsured driver, and there is also some overlap between UM insurance, health insurance, and personal injury protection. Given recent data from the Insurance Research Council estimating that one in eight on American drivers are either uninsured or under-insured, UMBI and UMPD are shown to be reasonable and sensible. It’s not a perfect system (see: Maslo v. Ameriprise Auto & Home Ins., 227 Cal.App.4th 626, in which a UM-insured claimant was forced into binding arbitration by his insurer), but it generally means that motorists injured by uninsured drivers can receive just compensation. When the reverse is the case – and uninsured drivers are the victims of accidents – Prop 213 is in effect, and drivers without insurance are limited to economic damages alone and cannot recover general damages.
However, there are some exceptions: (1) Prop 213 only applies to the driver of the vehicle, so any passengers in an uninsured vehicle may make general damage claims after an accident for which the driver was not at fault. (2) Uninsured drivers may make pain and suffering (or other non-economic) claims of damages in the event that the driver at fault was found to be driving while drunk or otherwise intoxicated (DUI) at the time of the accident. Because the purpose of Prop 213 is to encourage as many California drivers to purchase automobile insurance as possible, the rationale for these first two exceptions is simple: It is reasonable that passengers shouldn’t be penalized for the driver’s lack of car insurance coverage, and the DUI exception flows from the logic that an intoxicated driver was an even more reckless and irresponsible presence on the roads than an uninsured one.
Less common exceptions to the Prop 213 non-economic damages exception include: (3) When the non-insured driver was driving an employer-owned vehicle, upon which they did not have their own insurance, and (4) When such accidents resulted in claims of wrongful death. Especially in wrongful death cases, but also when the at-fault driver was DUI, Prop 213 penalties against non-economic claims may be lifted in court in order to seek (5) Punitive damages against the driver at fault, regardless of the automobile insurance status of the victim.
A spouse who did not know that the car was uninsured at the time of the accident, may still recover noneconomic damages even though the automobile had been acquired during the marriage and was deemed a community property asset. Innocent Wrongful Death Heir May still Recover Noneconomic Damages Arising from a Car Accident Death. An heir in wrongful death claim can recover non-economic damages if he or she was NOT the uninsured driver or vehicle owner. Horwich v. Super.Ct. (Acuna) (1999) 21 Cal.4th 272, 280; Anaya v. Super.Ct. (City of Los Angeles) (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 136, 139-140.
How do I know if I’m prop 213. In California, not all of those who are injured by the neglect of other drivers can fully collect on their injury lawsuit. Some years ago, California voters passed Proposition 213, or Prop 213 for short. Prop 213 says that uninsured drivers do not get to collect an award of pain and to suffer even where the car accident is not their fault. While the driver is unable to collect general damages, this is not true of the driver's passengers. Despite the driver's lack of liability insurance coverage, the passengers of the driver are not barred from general damages via Prop 213. Senate Bill 1046 requires Californians found guilty of driving under the influence to temporarily install breathalyzers in their vehicles to get their driver’s licenses back. The bill takes effect Jan. 1, 2019.
Put simply, your best bet is to buy car insurance if you plan to drive in California, especially a plan with Uninsured Motorist coverage. If you get into an accident while uninsured through no fault of your own, you’re entitled to economic claims, but will face steep obstacles to any non-economic claims, no matter how airtight. This is where legal compensation comes in. If you were uninsured and injured in a collision caused by the negligence of another driver, our accident attorneys at JT Legal Group, APC can help you get the financial recompense that you deserve.
Was you, or someone you love, injured or killed by a hit and run driver in Los Angeles or elsewhere Southern California? This is an extremely common occurrence in both Los Angeles as well as California more generally, so much so that California has the highest number of hit and run crashes in the country by far. If this impacted you or someone you know or love, contact us immediately at (888) 529-3111 or email@example.com. Our experienced personal injury lawyers have successfully pursued personal injury claims against dozens of negligent drivers who have injured or killed pedestrians, bicyclists or innocent bystanders in Los Angeles in the past in hit and run accidents and we fight tooth and nail to recover every element of damage for our clients that they are entitled to under California law. Without the help of a trusted personal injury law firm like JT Legal Group when you have been injured or killed in a hit and run incident in Los Angeles or some other part of Southern California, your claim may be subject to getting pushed to the side or completely rejected. For more information, including a free consultation regarding your particular situation, contact our firm immediately – we’re here to help you.
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