COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate has launched hearings on legislation that would block payments for pain and suffering that result from car accidents for drivers who don’t carry the statutory minimum insurance coverage.
HB 279 passed the Ohio House on a split vote in May; members of the Senate’s Insurance Committee voiced reservations about the legislation during sponsor testimony Tuesday.
The bill would block drivers who fail to carry mandatory insurance coverage from suing for non-economic losses. The law changes would affect only those drivers who have had their driving privileges revoked or vehicles impounded during the previous seven years for failing to maintain proof of coverage.
Payments for medical bills, property damage and lost wages would still be allowed. The bill would not apply to drivers younger than 18 or if the noneconomic losses were caused by another driver cited for accidents that rank as 4-6-point violations or who were texting while behind the wheel.
“I ask you, is that right, is that fair to the individuals breaking the law to reap the full benefits of the system and in doing so potentially bankrupt and ruin the lives of those who did the right thing and are abiding by the law?” asked Rep. Michael Henne (R-Clayton), a primary co-sponsor of the bill. “… Uninsured driver’s on Ohio’s roads pose a serious public policy problem that is getting worse. Thus, we believe HB 279 is an important step to help protect Ohio’s responsible drivers who are being negatively impacted by this situation.”
Henne said an estimated 15 percent of Ohioans are driving without proper coverage, and there were 95,000 crashes in the state last year involving uninsured drivers.
A dozen other states have passed comparable bills, he added.
The bill would have to move through the Senate within a few weeks to become law as part of this session’s completed legislation. Lawmakers weren’t overly supportive of the bill Tuesday, however.
Rep. Jay Hottinger (R-Newark), who serves as chairman of the Insurance Committee, acknowledged the problem of uninsured drivers. But he questioned whether HB 279 would lead to a reduction in that number.
“I think we all want what is fair and what’s right or just,” Hottinger said. “But specifically to the problem that the bill’s is trying to address… Do you believe … someone who is driving without insurance today is going to say, ‘I’m not going to be able to sue for noneconomic damages, I better go get my insurance?’”
Henne cited one study that showed slight reductions, less than 2 percent, in the number of uninsured drivers in other states.
Sen. Edna Brown (D-Toledo) questioned the impact of the bill on needy Ohioans.
“I’m not sure we’re going to accomplish a great deal with this bill,” she said. “I’m thinking in terms of, say, a motorist whose license has been suspended or who is unable to afford insurance, living in areas with no public transportation… I’d like to see a bill where we come forth with some method by which we use some other stick other than economic effect….”
Henne responded that the bill was directed at repeat offenders convicted for not carrying required car insurance.
“I would suggest that the person [who can’t afford coverage] doesn’t have the financial means to be driving a vehicle,” he said. “We have laws that say you have to have liability insurance to drive….”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.