Friday, June 5, 2009


The American Insurance Association (AIA), National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) and Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) are asking Oregon legislators to protect consumers from a variety of trial bar-promoted bills that would needlessly increase costs and litigation across the state.

“Lawmakers need to understand the consequences associated with the trial bar’s agenda,” said Steve Suchil, AIA assistant vice president, western region. “Bills being promoted by trial lawyers would increase insurance litigation costs and encourage frivolous litigation.”

Bills being considered include:

· SB 284, which would increase the statute of ultimate repose for product liability actions from its current limit of eight years to 10 years – or even longer if a product was manufactured or distributed in other states;
· SB 306, which would increase the jurisdictional limit for small claims subject to letters of demand. It also would provide mandatory attorney fees for plaintiffs who prevail in court if failure to pay a demand goes to trial (but includes no such provision for prevailing defendants);
· HB 2325, which would virtually eliminate an insurer’s ability to recover the cost of providing personal injury protection (PIP) benefits from the at-fault party in an accident. The PIP benefit coverage for certain expenses also would be extended from one year to two years after the date of injury; and
· HB 2802, which would increase by three times the existing $500,000 limit on non-economic damages recoverable in wrongful death actions to $1.5 million.

Christian Rataj, NAMIC western region state affairs manager, predicted that the state would see an unprecedented explosion of potential litigation if lawmakers do not take action against the bills. “Budget deficits are already exacting a heavy toll on the state’s courtrooms, and neither the justice system nor Oregon taxpayers can afford the costs generated by thousands of new lawsuits that only enrich attorneys,” said Rataj.

“Any one of these measures would be harmful to the Oregon insurance market and the insurance-buying public, but taken together, they amount to a costly trial lawyer wish list, because passage of these measures benefits them most of all – and in some cases, exclusively,” said Kenton Brine, PCI assistant vice president and northwest regional manager.

The three associations warned that passage of the trial bar-backed bills will make it much harder for an insurer to accurately rate liability coverage for companies that make and distribute products in Oregon; encourage excessive claim demands that will only increase litigation costs; make it easier for an at-fault party’s insurer from having to pay compensation after an accident; and triple the award available in cases alleging wrongful death.

“It is not too late for lawmakers to take a step back and refrain from making trial lawyers’ wishes come true at the expense of Oregon consumers,” Brine added.

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