Opinion

Ref. 67 a gift from Dems to lawyers?

The fate of Referendum 67 on Nov. 6 will depend, I suspect, on whether you have ever been involved in dealings with your insurance company over a claim and if you came out of it thinking you got a square deal.

Or, alternatively, you didn’t.

R-67 is either going to make it possible for you to get triple your loss if the company is judged to be acting unreasonably in denying or reducing an award, or generate higher and higher premiums on auto and homeowner insurance because of the increase in frivolous lawsuits that will be settled out of court to avoid that triple damages payoff.

Trial lawyers wanted this bill from the 2007 Legislature and found fertile territory in a Democratic House, Senate and governor.

The bill was needed, said attorney Tony Otto at a debate I attended, because too many claimants have been denied by their insurers or forced to accept what their insurer offers, which is usually less than expected. Claimants think they’re paying premiums for complete replacement value on homes and cars and too often the company pays 50 or 70 cents on the dollar.

Under Ref. 67, any claimant who is “unreasonably” denied a claim for coverage or payment of benefits by an insurer may bring an action in Superior Court.

If the judge finds the insurer acted unreasonably, he can increase the amount of damages by three times and include payment of reasonable attorneys’ and witness fees.

Matt Ryan, a benefits broker representing the companies, said Ref. 67 was a club to force insurance companies to make quick, expensive settlements to avoid the possibility of treble damages, even when there is evidence of fraud.

Ref. 67 is an incentive to commit insurance fraud, he said. A similar law passed in California caused a 62 percent jump in liability lawsuits, and it eventually was repealed by a 70 percent vote.

The unintended consequences of Ref. 67, he said, are that insurance rates will go up, the business and occupation tax will go up and business will pass its higher premium payment on to customers.

There is no need for it, he said, because 98 percent of the claims are settled reasonably.

“I’ve been in the insurance business for 47 years,” said Louis Soriano in the audience. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a person denied coverage by the insurance companies. There are reasonable adjusters and there are adjusters who are not reasonable. The adjuster interprets the settlement as what the insurance company wants. Matt, you said 98 percent of the claims are settled reasonably. I doubt that. There is some credibility to this thing. Nobody is for the common person.”

If the possibility of having to pay treble damages if they act unreasonably is leverage to make companies more aware of their duty to protect the poor common person on the street, fine, Soriano said.

Many people do not have money to sue the companies, he said.

Well, I’m not sure now how I’m going to vote. I’m inclined to oppose it because it appears to be a payoff to trial lawyers by their Democratic toadies for all the campaign donations they get from them.

It makes it very difficult for me when two longtime friends, Matt Ryan and Louis Soriano, whose judgement and integrity I trust, are on opposite sides.

I’ve had no problems with my insurance company in four instances. My car was stolen, I hit a deer, I was rear-ended and an electric wall socket outlet sent a shower of sparks that burned a hole through drapes gathered in front of it.

My car and a drape panel were replaced, my Accord’s rear end was repaired and that was the only deer we got that year.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at PO Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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