As reported by the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association Legislative Team:
Two keystone measures from the insurance reform package have passed both houses of the legislature and are on their way to the Governor. Increase the General District Court jurisdiction to $50,000 for personal injury and wrongful death cases. (Senate Bill 1108) Thanks to persuasive presentations by the patron, Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County), and work by our legislative team to explain how this change could help lighten some of the backlog of Circuit Courts and push cases to a more speedy conclusion, there was relatively little opposition in the Senate. Although the emergency provision was removed when the bill reached the House, this outstanding bill ultimately passed. In addition to increasing the jurisdictional limit, the bill also includes an appeal bond requirement capped at the amount of indemnity coverage. The change will go into effect July 1, 2021. Increases the minimum motor vehicle liability coverage from 25/50/20 to 30/60/20 for policies effective on or after January 1, 2022, but before January 1, 2025, and to 50/100/25 for policies effective on or after January 1, 2025. (Senate Bill 1182)
This bill moves Virginia's limits for the first time since 1975, but it wasn't without a major expenditure of effort and skill. As you may recall, the effort to increase liability limits last year met a grizzly fate in the House with massive opposition. Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) brought it back again this year, and he and VTLA fought the same fierce opposition to this bill in the House from dozens of lobbyists, insurance industry executives, chambers of commerce and a coalition of corporate lobbying muscle. When it became clear that the original bill to jump limits to 50/100 starting on January 1, 2022, was headed for the rocks, our legislative team expertly navigated it to calmer waters by working out a phased, guaranteed increase to 50/100 in just a few years. While those two bills are huge for the injured folks we represent, they were not the only auto insurance bills VTLA was fighting for this year. Unfortunately, the other two bills in our package were not able to overcome the opposition in the House. Senate Bill 1202 was introduced again this year by Sen. Chap Petersen. This bill would have addressed the fundamental injustice of UM/UIM insurance carriers not negotiating in good faith. Despite sneaking out of the Senate, this bill was vehemently opposed when it got to the House. Opposition arose from both sides of the aisle and couldn't even make it to a vote in a Labor & Commerce subcommittee. Sen. Mark Obenshain's bill to stop UIM setoffs (Senate Bill 1195) was also a hard fought battle. Again, it came through the Senate fairly unnoticed but hit a strong wall of opposition in the House from both the industry and their lobbyists and from delegates on both sides of the aisle. In the subcommittee, Sen. Obenshain offered a substitute to allow consumers to choose how the UIM insurance would be applied, and that version was voted out of the subcommittee. However, the bill encountered additional pushback from delegates in the full Labor & Commerce Committee and insurance lobbyists who began calling for a full study of the entire uninsured motorist insurance system in Virginia. The bill was struck to allow for more consideration.
As we enter the last few days of the session, VTLA is proud that two of the most consequential automobile insurance reform bills in decades, will become law. In a year marred by a global pandemic, virtual legislating, and "lobbying by electronics" this outcome is nothing short of extraordinary. While we are always disappointed when excellent bills that would have furthered the cause of justice in Virginia fail, we are fortunate to have an extraordinary legislative team and patrons committed to these issues.
Keep watching for more updates from the session, join us at the Convention (in person or virtually) for more details, and if you are one of our valued contributors, look for the deeper dive meeting as we analyze the details of this session.