Bill would double auto insurance liability minimums

The Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee heard testimony Feb. 16 on a bill that would increase compensatory damages for motor vehicle liability coverage and uninsured motorist coverage in Nebraska.

Sen. Steve Lathrop
Sen. Steve Lathrop

LB612, introduced by Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, would increase damages for bodily injury and property damage for both types of coverage from $25,000 to $50,000 of one person in one accident and from $50,000 to $100,000 of two or more people in one accident.

The bill also would increase the minimum limits for property damage from $25,000 to $50,000 and would take effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Lathrop said the current minimums no longer are adequate.

“The average claim is going to be more than $25,000 and you, the insured, are exposed to what we call an excess liability claim,” Lathrop said. “It’s bad for the person who gets hurt as well, so why do we keep doing this?”

Mark Richardson, testifying on behalf of the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys, spoke in support of the bill. He said medical costs have gone up 468 percent since 1983 and that while $25,000 sounds like adequate coverage, it quickly can be exhausted in a serious accident.

“Ten years ago it was probably time to move these limits up. There’s no question that it’s time [to do so] today,” Richardson said.

Peggy McDonald of the Independent Insurance Agents of Nebraska also supported LB612. Nebraska hasn’t increased its insurance minimums since 1988, she said, and doing so would shift the cost of lost income, medical treatment and ongoing physical therapy from the injured to the driver responsible for the accident.

“Bottom line is that there’s no way the innocent party should have the financial hardship of paying their own bodily injury and property damage,” McDonald said.

Coleen Nielsen, testifying on behalf of the Nebraska Insurance Federation and the Nebraska Insurance Information Service, opposed the bill. She said increasing minimums would make auto insurance too expensive for some Nebraskans, leading to more uninsured drivers.

“Proponents argue that the limits haven’t been raised for years and medical costs have risen dramatically, but overall claim value hasn’t risen at the same pace because cars are safer, making more serious injuries less common,” Nielsen said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB612.

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