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Activists Sue to Block Portions of Prop. 213

Insurance: Measure on uninsured motorists deprives people of right to due process and equal protection, coalition says.

December 18, 1996| From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A coalition of insurance industry watchdogs and citizens groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block portions of Proposition 213, which prohibits uninsured motorists from recovering noneconomic damages in traffic accident cases.

The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, charges that the ballot measure deprives people of their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

"Proposition 213 was written by lawyers for the insurance industry, and it shows," said Dave Casey, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California. "It is full of vague and ambiguous provisions, loopholes and tricks that will leave many motorists without adequate compensation and without professional representation."

Richard Wiebe, a spokesman for Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, noted that Proposition 213 passed with more than 75% of the vote, and said he expected the court to "uphold the will of the people."

The ballot measure, which takes effect Jan. 1, prohibits uninsured motorists from recovering damages for pain and suffering or other noneconomic issues, even when the other driver is at fault in a collision. The law makes an exception for drunk driving cases.

Tuesday's lawsuit charges that eliminating an uninsured motorist's due process rights is a punishment that far exceeds other penalties for failure to carry insurance.

Moreover, the lawsuit charges, the measure would apply even to motorists who legitimately believed they were covered by insurance, or who were the victims of fraud by an unscrupulous insurer.

Critics also said the drunk driving exception fails to address a major loophole: the fact that many such charges are plea-bargained to lesser offenses or dismissed through pretrial diversion programs.

In such cases, the plaintiffs said, an uninsured motorist would be unable to recover damages.

Nor is it fair, the critics said, for insurance companies to exercise their rights to go to court over rate reductions sought through Proposition 103 in 1988, while denying the victims of auto accidents the same right.

"Only the callous and greedy Scrooges in the insurance industry would have the temerity to argue that every insurance company has the constitutional right to go to court and protect its own level of fair profit, but that human beings injured by a reckless driver have no right to individual justice and fair compensation," said Proposition 103 author Harvey Rosenfield.

Wiebe said voters approved Proposition 213 "because they believe people should be responsible for their own actions, and because it represents a fair and sensible way to reduce auto insurance prices."

Wiebe dismissed the objections raised in the lawsuit, saying the same arguments had been made during the campaign.

"The voters have spoken," he said.

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