Mo. lawmakers eye uninsured motorist bill for override

Driving without auto insurance could mean losing out on court damages if Missouri lawmakers push forward with an effort to override one of Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes.

Under the legislation, drivers lacking insurance would forfeit the ability to collect for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering from an insured driver who is at fault. The lawsuit restrictions would not apply if the insured driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or is convicted of involuntary manslaughter or second-degree assault. It also would not apply to an uninsured motorist who lost coverage within the past six months for failing to pay premiums.

Missouri requires auto insurance.

Uninsured motorists would lose the right to sue for “huge damages” that are “akin to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” said Calvin Call, the executive director of the Missouri Insurance Coalition. He said it could encourage people to comply with the insurance requirement, would limit lawsuits against law-abiding citizens and would prevent those without insurance from driving up costs for the system.

“Society and the Legislature has put in a mandatory financial responsibility law, and if we’re going to have a law, then those who violate the law should take on some personal responsibility and forfeit some rights,” he said.

The legislation is among 29 non-budgetary bills vetoed by Nixon this summer. Lawmakers return to the state Capitol on Sept. 11 to consider veto overrides. House Speaker Tim Jones said the uninsured motorist bill is one legislators could seek to override.

Some are hoping that does not happen.

Ken Vuylsteke, president-elect of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, said there can be many reasons someone lacks insurance. He said there already are penalties for driving without it and that there is no guarantee insurers would pass any savings along to policyholders.

Vuylsteke said most traffic accidents are caused by someone who has broken a law and that the legislation gives a break to someone who has violated the law and injured another.

“It’s a bad piece of legislation. It’s bad public policy,” he said. “By its very nature, it punishes people who are operating a motor vehicle in a safe manner.”

According to the industry-backed Insurance Information Institute, an estimated 13.7 percent of Missouri motorists were uninsured in 2009.

Senators passed the uninsured measure 32-1. It won approval in the House 104-55, and that is shy of the two-thirds majority required for a veto override. Sponsoring Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, said he has been talking with colleagues and is trying to wrangle the requisite 109 votes. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey handled the legislation in the Senate.

Nixon announced his veto in early July, stating the legislation was “riddled with ambiguity.” The governor said it would prompt excessive litigation over to whom and how to apply the legislation and did not adequately define “uninsured motorist.” Nixon said it was unclear whether the lawsuit restrictions would prohibit any causes of action or simply the recovery of certain damages.

Supporters contend existing Missouri law has a definition for uninsured.

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