In the late 1990’s, legislation was passed in California called the Personal Responsibility Act, what is commonly referred to as Proposition 213. This law is now established under Civil Code, Section 3333.4. Now, the bottom line is that you should always carry at least the minimum amount of liability insurance required in California. Liability insurance is the auto insurance that provides for payment to someone else when your negligence injures another while you are using your vehicle. In other words, it covers you if someone sues you. In California, the minimum liability insurance required is $15,000 per person and $30,000 per incident, regardless of the number of people injured. Under Civil Code, Section 3333.4, anyone who is uninsured at the time of an accident, even when they are not at fault, are prohibited from seeking non-economic damages from the offending or at-fault driver. This may not seem fair because you were not at fault, but it is the law. Non-economic or general damages are damages that are often referred to as pain and suffering. You are still able to recover for medical costs and property damages.
What if you are a passenger in a person’s vehicle and the owner does not have insurance on the vehicle? In such situations, generally, Civil Code, Section 3333.4 does not preclude you from recovering non-economic damages, as it applies to the “owner” of the uninsured vehicle. [Civil Code, Section 3333.4(a)(2); Savnik v. Hall (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 733, 742.] Most cases in California look to the owner/driver who is responsible for having the insurance and does not penalize others for this failure.
The failure to carry liability insurance can also impact you when you are not actually driving your vehicle and are struck in and around your car. California cases have precluded an injured driver from recovering non-economic damages when they were exiting their legally parked car, or even standing outside their car and handing things into the car at the time they were struck. [Harris v. Lammers (2000) 84 Cal. App.4th 1072; HarrisCabral v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (1998) 66 Cal.App.4th 907.] A driver was not allowed to sue for non-economic damages for burns suffered from hot coffee because it was purchased in his car in a drive-through, and the injured driver did not have liability insurance. [Chude v. Jack in the Box Inc. (2010) 185 Cal. App. 4th 37.]
Even if you are not insured at the time a negligent driver hits you, you can sue for non-economic damages if the offending driver is intoxicated and convicted of the offense. [Civil Code, Section 3333.4(c).] Also, the surviving family or heirs can still pursue a wrongful death case against an offending, negligent driver, even if the decedent-driver was not insured. [Horwich v. Sup. Ct (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 973.]
This information is important to know both in ensuring that you carry insurance to protect others and yourself; it can impact what damages you can seek against another who is responsible for a collision. Make sure you have liability insurance.