What Is Proposition 213?
California’s Personal Responsibility Act of 1996 was an initiative to reduce the amount of damages that an uninsured driver, a felon or a drunk driver could recover after being struck and injured by an insured vehicle. The law applies to uninsured motorists and owners of uninsured vehicles.
The stated purpose of Proposition 213 was to restore balance to our judicial system by limiting the settlement amounts that uninsured motorists could collect.
Lawmakers decided that responsible citizens who maintain auto insurance coverage should not have to pay out noneconomic settlements for accidents involving uninsured or drunk drivers. Under Proposition 213, they won’t have to.
What to Know About Proposition 213
Prop 213 is now state law in California. Under that law, uninsured motorists, felons and drunks who are hurt in an accident with an insured vehicle cannot collect noneconomic damages from insured motorists who are at fault in an accident.
However, you can still claim maximum damages for economic losses such as medical expenses, property damage and financial losses caused by an inability to work.
Although noneconomic losses are typically compensated by financial settlements, these losses have no dollar value and are essentially irreplaceable.
The damages include pain, suffering, humiliation, loss of consortium, damage to reputation, physical impairment, disability, handicap, disfigurement, loss of fertility, a lost ability to bear children and emotional anguish.
Because those losses take the pleasure out of daily life, they can have a profound impact on the long-term mental and emotional health of a victim.
Noneconomic damages are denied whether an insured driver is negligent or not. The degree of harm inflicted by the insured driver is irrelevant. The circumstances surrounding a car accident don’t matter.
As long as a vehicle is insured, the driver is not liable for any noneconomic damages suffered by uninsured motorists. Prop 213 has been challenged in the courts repeatedly. However, it has not been overturned.
The Impact of Prop 213 on Uninsured Motorists
If another driver steals your uninsured vehicle and gets hit by a bus, you still have no right to noneconomic damages. The same holds true if you are a passenger in your own uninsured vehicle when a fully insured big rig comes along and crushes your back end.
Noneconomic damages are denied if you are a felon who is struck by an insured motorist while in the process of committing a crime or fleeing a crime scene.
If an insured motorist is driving an uninsured vehicle and the vehicle owner is a passenger, noneconomic damages are recoverable. In Goodson v. Perfect Fit Enterprises, Inc. (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 508, a widower recovered noneconomic damages despite being uninsured.
His wife was a passenger in their jointly owned uninsured vehicle, but the vehicle was being driven by an insured family member when the wreck occurred.
The Thinking Behind Proposition 213
Proposition 213 was designed to discourage uninsured motorists from driving without insurance. The idea sounds fine on the face of it. Nevertheless, it’s debatable whether this practice actually works.
How many drivers even know that Proposition 213 exists? If uninsured drivers don’t know about this law, how could it cause them to buy car insurance? Many drivers can’t afford the car insurance they’ve already got.
The law was intended to eliminate massive noneconomic recovery settlements awarded to drunk and uninsured drivers and paid for by drivers with insurance. Those settlements were causing the premiums of insured motorists to soar.
If Proposition 213 convinced enough uninsured motorists to buy insurance, it could substantially reduce the massive settlements negotiated by the attorneys representing uninsured drivers.
It was anticipated that the relative savings under Proposition 213 would be somewhere between 10 and 13 percent. At the same time, uninsured drivers and drivers under the influence were denied noneconomic damages even after they sustained catastrophic injuries caused by an insured driver who was reckless and negligent.
How Are Damages Determined?
Only noneconomic damages are restricted under this law. Noneconomic damages include losses caused by pain and suffering, disfigurement, emotional and mental distress and physical impairment.
Uninsured accident victims can still be compensated for economic damages including the cost of rehabilitation services, physical therapy, medical equipment, certain medications and various types of therapy.
Who Is Affected by This Law?
Only uninsured motorists, drunk drivers and felons in the process of committing a crime are affected by Proposition 213. Uninsured motorists and drivers under the influence are most affected.
Drunk drivers who are hit by an at-fault vehicle while driving under the influence may be unable to collect noneconomic damages unless it can be shown that the drunk driver did not cause the accident. The driver could be arrested for DUI but not charged with causing the crash.
When Does This Law Not Apply?
If the at-fault driver in an accident is found to be under the influence, Proposition 213 will not apply to the uninsured driver, and they will not be denied noneconomic compensation.
The reasoning appears to have been that it would be unfair to punish an uninsured motorist who is injured in an accident through no fault of their own when the driver of the vehicle that caused the wreck was drunk or otherwise impaired.
Accidents that result in death are not covered by Proposition 213. The law does not apply if the driver of an uninsured vehicle has insurance on another car, but the vehicle that was in the crash was owned and uninsured by someone else. The law does, however, permit the recovery of punitive damages.
Are There Exceptions to This Law?
- Exemption number one: The uninsured vehicle you were driving belonged to your employer. You may be covered under this exemption even if you personally were uninsured when the accident took place. You can be compensated for noneconomic damages as well as economic damages.
- Exemption number two: Did the accident occur on private property? If so, you can claim economic and noneconomic damages as well as property damage. Under the law, insurance is only required to drive on public roadways. If an accident occurs on private property, all bets are off.
- Exemption number three: You are driving an uninsured vehicle that you do not own. The car you do own is covered by insurance.
Information About Proposition 213
Lawmakers hoped that by eliminating noneconomic damage claims, the new law would increase the likelihood that uninsured drivers would purchase vehicle insurance.
It was also hoped that the limitations imposed by the new law would reduce the total number of injury claims filed by uninsured motorists and drunk drivers.
Further, it was hoped that by denying noneconomic damages to drunks and uninsured motorists, the number of claims filed by injured victims would be reduced, and that the number of fraudulent and excessive claims being filed would decrease.
Fewer claims would mean lower costs for insurance companies. The insurance companies claimed they would pass the savings along to their customers.
When the terms of the proposition were implemented, it seemed quite likely that Proposition 213 would modestly reduce the costs of compensating uninsured drivers.
Excessive claims for medical costs, especially in California, were used to leverage greater settlements for noneconomic claims. That typically happens when an accident victim uses their noneconomic damages settlement to pay for a car accident attorney.
If that strategy is no longer possible due to the elimination of noneconomic damages, affected drivers would have limited access to a car accident attorney and potentially lose out on even legitimate claims.
Should Uninsured Motorists Pursue Personal Injury Claims?
An uninsured driver with crippling injuries resulting from an accident in which that driver was not at fault may have difficulty retaining a car accident attorney.
Many lawyers will hesitate to invest time and money in uninsured motorist claims when the total settlement amount won’t be enough to cover the costs involved in bringing a lawsuit.
Nevertheless, you should still seek counsel from an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help you to obtain fair compensation for all the damages to which you are entitled whether you have insurance or not.
Your lawyer will ensure that you receive the highest settlement amount possible, especially if your injuries are severe. You are still entitled to damages for all of your medical expenses including future medical expenses, the loss of past and future earnings, lost earning capacity and lost employment and business opportunities.
You can still be compensated for property damage, including property replacement or repair. Expenses for domestic services and home health care professionals are covered as well, in addition to vocational rehabilitation services and out-of-pocket expenses
Have you suffered injuries in a car accident for which you have been denied compensation because you had no insurance? We may be able to help. Call JT Legal Group now to receive a no-cost consultation to assess the merits of your case.