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Lawmakers missed crucial chance to raise liability limits

As a personal injury lawyer with offices in both Glendale and Phoenix, my staff and I represent thousands of injured people every year, the majority of whom were injured in car accidents.

We see the impact that being injured in an accident has on the victim and his/her family—I can tell you this impact is significant. The biggest challenge that our clients who are significantly injured face is the lack of insurance that is typically available to compensate them. “Fair” compensation for their injuries seldom exists.

Due to this, Arizona State Representative Ethan Orr of Tucson’s Legislative District 9 proposed House Bill 2165. This bill would have raised the minimum auto insurance coverage requirements from its current levels of $15,000 per person/$30.000 per incident and $10,000 in property damage coverage to the higher level of $25,000 per person/$50,000 per incident and $20,000 in property damage coverage. The last time the State of Arizona raised these limits was in 1972, more than 40 years ago.

I regularly represent auto accident victims who are injured and have in excess of $15,000 in medical bills, but don’t have broken bones and do not need surgery. By most standards they are not “severely” injured. If this victim, who isn’t “severely” injured, was injured by a driver with the $15,000 in minimum insurance coverage there would not be enough money to pay the victim’s medical bills, which exceed the auto insurance coverage minimum limits. There certainly wouldn’t be enough money to compensate the victim for his/her pain and suffering, lost wages, or any additional damages that the victim has suffered. I don’t believe that any of us can call this resolution “fair”.

Can you imagine how large your medical bills would be with broken bones or when surgery is needed? Can you imagine how much pain and suffering you would have with this type of injury? Can you imagine how much time you might miss from work with this type of injury? How much money do you believe you should be paid in order that have a “fair” resolution if a negligent driver injured you so severely that your entire life changed? $15,000?

At my large personal injury law practice, we represent a substantial number of auto accident victims annually. In 2013, approximately 20 percent of all victims we represented were paid the entire insurance policy limits that the at-fault driver had. That means that for approximately 20% of the clients we represented in 2013, the at-fault driver did not have enough insurance coverage to fully compensate our clients.

So what did our Arizona State House of Representatives do with House Bill 2165? On January 14, 2014, there was an informational hearing in the House Insurance Committee. At this hearing, there was one group who spoke in opposition to the bill. That group was the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. So, the only opposition was the insurance industry itself, who would have to pay more money to fairly compensate accident victims, were the bill to pass.

The next step would have been for House Bill 2165 to be assigned to the committee and voted on. Unfortunately, House Majority Leader Andy Tobin, who once owned and operated his own Farmers Insurance Company, refused to assign House Bill 2165 to committee for a vote. This refusal basically killed the bill in the House of Representatives. It has no chance of becoming a law this year. So much for looking out for the rights of accident victims!

— Doug Zanes has practiced personal injury law in Arizona since 1997 and founded his own law firm, Zanes Law, with his wife, Claudia Zanes, in 2003.

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