On the one hand, California law says that if you’re injured in an auto accident and someone else was at fault, you are entitled to recover financial compensation for your damages.
…That includes not only your economic damages (medical bills, lost wages, and other direct or out-of-pocket financial costs) but also your non-economic damages (pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc.).
On the other hand, California law requires all drivers to carry auto insurance. Failure to do so is considered irresponsible and unlawful.
So what happens if you are injured in a car crash to no fault of your own, but it just so happens that you didn’t have auto insurance at the time?
Many years ago, the question of whether you (the victim) had auto insurance at the time of the crash would have no bearing on your ability to recover compensation from the at-fault driver, provided you weren’t the one at fault.
But in 1996, the State of California enacted California Proposition 213 — thanks to aggressive lobbying by the insurance industry — in order to limit your ability to recover damages if you weren’t properly insured.
So what is California Proposition 213, exactly? How does it affect you, financially speaking, if you were recently injured in a car crash and then later learned that your auto insurance had lapsed at the time of the accident?
Let’s take a close look at the law.
What Is California Proposition 213?: Understanding the General Rule
Section 3333.3 says that you can’t recover non-economic damages for an accident if the injury happens while you are committing a felony or fleeing from the commission of a felony. (Note that this rule only applies once you have actually been convicted of said felony.)
Similarly, Section 3333.4 says that you can’t recover non-economic damages for an auto accident if you were driving without insurance… even if the accident wasn’t your fault.
Notably, while Section 3333.3 applies to any claim based on negligence, Section 3333.4 only applies to auto accident claims.
It’s also important to note that while both these sections will limit your ability to recover non-economic damages (e.g. pain and suffering), they will NOT limit your right to compensation for economic damages (e.g. medical expenses, lost wages, property damages, etc.)
Exceptions to California Proposition 213
There are several key exceptions to Prop 213:
- Employment situations — If you were driving a company-owned car, you will still be able to seek both economic and non-economic damages, regardless of whether you had auto insurance at the time. You are not responsible for the insurance on your employer’s vehicle.
- Wrongful death claims — If your loved one died in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, your family will not be limited by California Proposition 213, even if the deceased victim was driving without insurance.
- Drunk driving — If the at-fault driver was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will not be limited by Prop 213, even if you didn’t have auto insurance at the time.
- Private property— California Proposition 213 does not apply to auto accidents that happen on private property.
- Negligence caused by something other than careless driving — Prop 213 applies to injuries caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle. If your attorney can show that your injuries were caused by something else (for example, by a defect in the vehicle or a dangerous condition in the roadway), the proposition will not apply.
- Driver had insurance but on a different car — If you are injured in an accident while driving someone else’s car, you will not be limited by Prop 213, so long as you did have an active auto policy covering your own vehicle at the time.
These exceptions are complex, and we have described them only in general terms here. It is also possible that, in cases involving extraordinary or unusual facts and circumstances, a court will agree that Proposition 213 does not apply.
If you aren’t sure whether California Proposition 213 or one of its exceptions will apply in your case, you should discuss the matter with an experienced Bakersfield auto accident attorney right away.
California Proposition 213 Does NOT Apply to Passengers (Generally Speaking)
As a general rule, Prop 213 is intended to punish drivers and vehicle owners who violate California’s mandatory minimum insurance requirements.
If you are injured as a passenger, your recovery will not be limited by California Proposition 213, even if you did not have car insurance.
(Note that there is one limited circumstance in which Prop 213 may limit a passenger’s recovery of non-economic damages: if the passenger is the owner of the car, and the passenger does not have car insurance, and the person driving the passenger’s car also does not have insurance.)
California Proposition 213 Does NOT Apply to Punitive Damages
Finally, it is important to understand that even when Prop 213 applies, it only limits the victim’s ability to recover non-economic damages.
Punitive damages, which are awarded in cases where a defendant’s conduct is so egregious that the court sees fit to punish the defendant with an additional financial judgment, fall into their own special category of damages.
Accordingly, Proposition 213 will not limit your ability to recover punitive damages, regardless of whether you were insured at the time of the crash.
If granted, punitive damages will be awarded to the victim in addition to all of their other damages.
Is Prop 213 Fair?
California Proposition 213 was enacted to save insurance companies money, not because it represented the best interests of accident victims in our state.
Most plaintiffs’ lawyers agree that the law has had a detrimental impact on the ability of a true victim to recover the full and fair compensation they deserve.
It is fundamentally unfair that the state would ask a victim to suffer on their own because of someone else’s careless driving just because of an incidental issue with their own auto insurance (which is otherwise not at issue in the accident).
In effect, the statute protects bad behavior and punishes the wrong party.
Moreover, in many of these cases, the victim is someone who does normally carry auto insurance but whose coverage had accidentally lapsed at the time of the crash. Sometimes, they are not even aware of the lapse until it’s too late.
Ironically, California Proposition 213 seems to fly in the face of another legal principle that California has wholeheartedly embraced: comparative negligence. Underlying the doctrine of comparative negligence is the belief that a victim in an accident should be able to recover for his or her damages even if he or she was partly in the wrong. But Prop 213 punishes drivers for a wrong that isn’t even related to the cause of the crash.
Furthermore, by treating them the same way, the proposition seems to equate driving without insurance (Section 3333.4) with committing a felony (Section 3333.3) — even if it’s your first time driving while uninsured. But driving without insurance is not a felony in California. First-time offenses are treated as traffic infractions.
The proposition also makes the mistake of assuming that non-economic damages are somehow less serious or less legitimate than economic damages. But that notion is misguided. Non-economic damages are very real, and they have long been recognized in courts around the world. This unfortunate stigma is itself largely the product of insurance companies’ PR campaigns.
Undoubtedly, driving without insurance is irresponsible. But California Proposition 213 goes too far by denying true justice to people who are seriously injured and in need of financial help.
For that reason, if you find yourself in a potential Prop 213 situation, it is important that you work with an experienced Bakersfield auto accident attorney.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, your lawyer may argue that Prop 213 does not apply at all in your situation or, alternatively, that an exception applies.
The Law Offices of Mickey Fine Can Fight to Maximize Your Compensation
At The Law Offices of Mickey Fine, we are here to fight for your best interests. Even if California Proposition 213 applies in your case and you do not fall within any of the exceptions, we can still work tirelessly to maximize your economic damages (as well as punitive damages if they apply).
Let our law firm guide you through the claims process, protecting you against the aggressive tactics of insurance companies that are not on your side.
To learn more about your rights and options after a car crash in California, call our office and schedule a free, no-obligation case review.