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Initiative Barring Some Suits in Car Accidents Upheld

From Associated Press

Proposition 213, a ballot initiative that barred uninsured drivers, drunk drivers and fleeing felons from suing for pain and suffering when injured in an accident, was upheld Wednesday by a second state appeals court.

The November 1996 measure drew a legitimate distinction between “the group of people who obey the law by purchasing automobile insurance, driving sober, and committing no vehicle-related felonies, and the group of people who violate these driving-related laws,” said the 1st District Court of Appeal.

The court agreed with a ruling two months ago by a Los Angeles appellate panel upholding the measure. That ruling also said Proposition 213 could be applied to lawsuits over accidents that occurred before it passed, an issue that Wednesday’s decision did not reach.

The chief importance of the new ruling is that it would overturn an injunction, issued by a San Francisco Superior Court judge in April, that prohibits Insurance Commissioner Charles Quackenbush from spending state funds to implement the limits on lawsuits by uninsured drivers. Quackenbush praised the ruling, saying it makes Proposition 213 “the law of the land.”

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“Proposition 213 . . . restored balance and fairness to the legal system,” Quackenbush said in a statement. “Instead of long, drawn-out legal battles, opponents of Proposition 213 should direct their energy and resources into joining ranks with me to make auto insurance more affordable and available to all Californians.”

Los Angeles attorney Harvey Rosenfield, author of Proposition 103, which regulated auto insurance rates, and a participant in the attack on Proposition 213, said the ruling would be appealed to the state Supreme Court. Other plaintiffs include the Congress of California Seniors and several consumer groups.

“To say to those people who can’t afford [insurance] who are the innocent victim of a car accident that they’re out of luck is the kind of Christmas Eve decision that only a Scrooge can render,” Rosenfield said.

The initiative, supported by insurance companies and approved by 76% of the voters, prohibits uninsured drivers, drunk drivers and fleeing felons from collecting “noneconomic” damages--for pain, disfigurement and emotional distress--in any auto accident, no matter who was at fault. They can sue only for financial losses, such as medical bills and lost wages.

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About 5 million of California’s 20.2 million drivers are uninsured, according to recent state and industry estimates.


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