1-14-2022

CA Prop 213: How It Impacts Car Accident Injury Lawsuits

Imagine you unintentionally cause a serious injury accident. It all happens in a split second — you take your eyes off the road to glance down at your phone, and suddenly you careen into another vehicle crossing a busy intersection. As it turns out, the other driver is fleeing from the scene of a bank robbery at the time of the accident and is later convicted of multiple felonies for their crimes. They subsequently sue you for pain and suffering as a result of the automobile accident, ultimately obtaining a multi-million dollar settlement. 

Does this scenario sound far-fetched? Prior to the adoption of California’s Proposition 213 in 1996, which placed limits on the rights of uninsured motorists, drunk drivers, and those injured during the course of committing a felony, this unbelievable scenario was actually possible under California law.

Assuming you are a generally law-abiding California driver, how does CA Prop 213 affect you? How does it impact your right to sue, or your chance of being sued for injuries caused during an automobile accident?

What Is CA Proposition 213?

California state law requires drivers to carry a minimum auto insurance policy of $15,000 bodily injury per person, $30,000 bodily injury per accident, and $5,000 property damage per accident. However, according to the California Department of Insurance, over 14% of California motorists were uninsured between the years 2002-2004.

Should an uninsured motorist be able to sue an at-fault driver, business, or public entity for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, inconvenience, or emotional distress resulting from a car accident? That was the question posed to California voters with Proposition 213, the California ballot initiative officially entitled The Personal Responsibility Act of 1996.

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California Prop 213 was designed as a punitive measure to prevent motorists who did not take personal responsibility for their actions from suing law-abiding citizens or government entities for non-economic damages after an accident. The ballot measure was also intended to decrease insurance premiums for law-abiding California drivers, as insurance rates had increased significantly, in part due to the high rate of uninsured motorists in the state.

Ultimately, California voters passed Prop 213 in 1996, electing to place limits on uninsured motorists, drunk drivers, and convicted felons. The law prevented these individuals from suing law-abiding citizens, businesses, or public entities to recover non-economic damages resulting from an automobile accident. Prop 213 did not, however, restrict uninsured motorists from suing the responsible party for economic damages such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage, nor from suing an at-fault drunk driver for both economic and non-economic damages.

Prop 213: What CA Drivers Need to Know

The primary takeaways from Proposition 213, detailed in a Research Report that extensively reviews and analyzes Proposition 213 and its effects include:

  • California motorists and vehicle operators must carry automobile insurance in order to preserve their right to sue for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, in the event of an automobile accident. Since the passage of Prop 213 in California, uninsured motorists can only sue for economic damages in the event they are injured in an automobile accident. If you are uninsured and the vehicle you are operating, whether or not it is in motion, is not insured at the time of an accident, Prop 213 may apply in your case. Though the law has been challenged in court many times, it has been strictly upheld.
  • “Drunk drivers” cannot recover non-economic damages from an at-fault motorist.  Drunk driving includes driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and it precludes a driver from suing for non-economic losses, even if they are not responsible for causing the automobile collision.
  • “Drunk drivers” can still recover economic damages, such as medical bills, property damage, and lost wages from the responsible party after a motor vehicle accident, providing the drunk driver is injured as a result of the responsible party’s negligence.
  • Persons convicted of a felony cannot sue for non-economic damages if they are injured due to someone else’s negligence while they are in the act of committing a crime or fleeing the scene of a crime. There are a few exceptions, such as if they sustain injuries due to an excessive use of force by the police while fleeing the crime scene.
  • Passengers are still entitled to sue for non-economic damages under Prop 213, whether or not they carry insurance. Passengers maintain the right to recover the full range of damages, whether or not the driver of their vehicle is insured.

Important Exceptions to Prop 213

While prop 213 was intended to prevent uninsured motorists, drunk drivers, and criminals from suing for non-economic losses after an accident, there are several notable exceptions to the law. For example, proposition 213 does not apply in these circumstances:

  • If an accident occurs on private property, as California state law only requires motorists to carry auto liability insurance when driving “on” public roadways.
  • If a driver is operating their employer’s uninsured vehicle at the time of an accident, the burden of financial responsibility is shifted to the employer, even if the vehicle operator is uninsured.
  • If a vehicle owner’s insurance policy contains “permissive use” coverage, an uninsured driver / vehicle operator can still recover noneconomic damages for their injuries. 
  • If a driver/operator carries their own automobile liability insurance, they retain the right to sue for non-economic damages, regardless of whether the vehicle involved in the collision or the vehicle owner are insured.
  • When an uninsured motorist is injured as a result of a design defect, they may recover non-economic damages through a product liability claim against the vehicle manufacturer.
  • In a wrongful death action brought by the heirs of an uninsured vehicle owner / operator who was killed in an automobile accident, non-economic losses may be recovered.
  • Uninsured motorists and “drunk drivers” can still sue for punitive damages in certain applicable situations.

A CZ Law Car Accident Attorney Can Help

Whether or not you were carrying the required California automobile insurance at the time of your accident, if you were injured in a car accident as a result of someone else’s negligence, the experienced car accident attorneys at Carpenter & Zuckerman can help! 

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Our dedicated team of legal professionals will fight to ensure you receive fair compensation. Regardless of your insurance status at the time of the accident, you are still entitled to compensation for your economic losses from property damage, lost wages, and medical bills. 

Fiercely dedicated to advocacy for the individual against well-funded insurance companies and powerful corporations, Carpenter & Zuckerman has won over $2 billion in settlements and verdicts on behalf of our clients.

Established over 25 years ago, Carpenter & Zuckerman is a leading personal injury law firm in California. We service clients throughout the state of California, as well as in Nevada and other states. CZ Law maintains offices in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Garden Grove, San Diego, Bakersfield, and Las Vegas.

Fill out our confidential contact form today or call us at the number listed below to arrange for a FREE consultation. We do not charge any legal fees unless we win your case. CZ Law stands ready to fight for you!

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