By: Michael P. Byrne, Esq.
Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder Co., LPA
On May 25, 2016, with a vote of 62-35, the Ohio House of Representatives officially passed H.B. 279, the Responsible Driver Protection Act. This legislation is purportedly intended to combat the problem of the approximately 15% of Ohio drivers that operate vehicles without the required insurance coverage. However, does this bill really have the teeth necessary to take a bite out of that number?
The Responsible Driver Protection Act, if made law, would bar uninsured drivers from recovering non-economic damages for harm sustained in an auto accident. This would mean that the damages of an uninsured driver in an automobile accident negligence case would be limited to economic damages such as medical costs, property damage and lost wages. But, there are several limitations to this bar to non-economic recovery.
Several exceptions would prevent the law from applying in certain egregious circumstances, such as:
- where the at fault driver pleads guilty to or is convicted of committing an offense for which four or six points are assessed (vehicular homicide, OVI, leaving the scene of an accident, fleeing police, reckless driving, driving under suspension);
- the at fault driver pleads guilty to or is convicted of texting while driving;
- if the matter is a cause of action for wrongful death; or
- the injured party is under the age of 18.
However, there is also a rather glaring limitation. The injured driver not only has to be uninsured at the time of the accident, they also have to have had their license suspended for failure to maintain proof of financial responsibility at sometime within the seven years prior to the accident. As such, the person would not only have to be a repeat offender, but they also would have to have gotten caught, prosecuted, and had their license suspended for doing so.
It is safe to assume that this limitation would significantly narrow down the aforementioned figure of 15% of drivers. Regardless, the legislation does make a statement as far as public sentiment towards the costly problem of uninsured drivers specifically, and the costs of litigation in general. A sentiment that appears to be growing as 12 other states (Alaska, California, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Indiana) have enacted similar legislation, and the laws have been upheld as constitutional in three of those states (California, Louisiana, and New Jersey). This legislation has garnered a lot of support from both insurance carriers and agents. It will be interesting to watch now as it works through the Ohio Senate.