All automobile drivers and owners in California must maintain valid automobile insurance at all times covering the vehicles that they drive or own. Prop 213 creates penalties for failure to comply with the auto insurance requirement. Prop 213 refers to California’s Proposition 213, which gave birth to Section 3333.4 of the California Civil Code. Under Section 3333.4, if you are the driver or owner of a car that is involved in a car accident and you did not carry auto insurance, California law prohibits you from recovering pain and suffering and certain other forms of compensation. Specifically, you cannot recover noneconomic damages, which mainly includes pain and suffering and disfigurement. You can still recover medical bills and lost wages, which may be significant. Though beyond the scope of this article but worthy of mention, Prop 213 also bars recovery of noneconomic damages if you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and you were convicted of that offense (Civil Code Section 3333.4), or if you were committing a felony at the time of the accident (Civil Code Section 3333.3).
No Pain and Suffering if Uninsured during a Car Accident
The penalty of Prop 213 is simple. If you did not have automobile liability insurance that provided for coverage on the date of a particular car accident, then you are prohibited by law from recovering noneconomic damages. Noneconomic damages refer to pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of consortium, and other amounts which are not based on actual monetary amounts or expenses incurred. This is in contrast to economic damages, which reimburse you for certain monetary amounts or particular expenses incurred, such as medical bills, lost wages, repairs for physical damage to an automobile, future lost wages, or future medical bills. So even if you were uninsured during a car accident you may still be able to obtain various forms of compensation for your economic losses. With the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer you may be able to obtain just compensation for your injuries.
Applies to Drivers, and Owners
It is important to note that Prop 213 applies to both drivers, and owners. So if you were the owner of an automobile that was involved in a collision, the penalty against recovering certain damages will apply to you simply by reason of being an owner. It is immaterial that you were not the driver. For example, you may be the owner and it was your friend who was driving at the time of a collision where a negligent driver rear-ended your vehicle. If you did not carry auto insurance for your vehicle, you will not be able to obtain noneconomic damages even though you were merely a passenger. The bar against recovery applies to you because you are an owner. As an owner, it was your legal duty and responsibility to make sure that the automobile was insured.
Ownership by virtue of Community Property law
The issue of owner liability may get tricky when it comes to ownership by virtue of California community property law. In California, spouses automatically acquire an ownership interest in an automobile that is acquired by the other spouse during marriage. So if your husband or wife was driving a car or truck that you were a passenger in and the vehicle was not insured, and you were rear-ended by another driver, you may be deemed an owner under community property law and therefor unable to seek compensation for pain and suffering and other noneconomic damages. Prop 213 is essentially a penalty for people who break the law and do not have auto insurance covering their vehicle or their driving. Because the statute is intended to penalize people who intentionally break the law, the penalty may not apply to a spouse who did not know their spouse owned a particular automobile that was involved in a car accident. That is determined on a case-by-case basis and is actually a question that your car accident attorney will submit for the jury to decide at the time of trial in your case.
Exception where the Other Driver is DUI
There is one big exception to Prop 213 and the penalty created thereby. If the negligent driver who collided with you was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and was convicted of that offense (convicted of a DUI for alcohol or drugs), then the law carves out an exception to the penalty against recovery. If the other driver is convicted of DUI, you can obtain all forms of damages, including pain and suffering, even though you failed to comply with your duty to carry valid auto insurance at all times.