Insurance Companies Hide Behind MADD in Effort to Defeat Props. 30 and 31
The California arm of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is opposing two consumer protection initiatives on the March ballot which would defend victims of drunk drivers against insurance low-balling and other abuses. The group’s stance is in violation of its own national policies.
In its million-dollar a week media advertising blitz against the propositions, which began in November, seven out-of-state insurance companies are featuring MADD and falsely claiming that Props. 30 and 31 will let drunk drivers sue. The laws permit innocent victims of car accidents (and certain other accidents) to sue the at-fault driver’s insurance company if it does not pay legitimate claims promptly and fully.
“We have carefully analyzed the Fair Responsibility Act, and it explicitly states that drunk drivers are not permitted to file lawsuits of any kind,” said Doug Heller of The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization. “In fact, the new laws will make sure that innocent victims of drunk drivers don’t get the run-around by the drunk driver’s insurance company in an effort to save itself money. MADD’s opposition to these measures is inconceivable ‘ it hurts the very people the organization seeks to protect.” Heller said.
The measures state [Civil Code §2871(e)] that anyone “who at the time of the accident was operating a motor vehicle in violation of Section 23152 or 23153 of the Vehicle Code (California’s drunk driving laws), and was convicted of that offense, may not assert a cause of action under this section.”
In a letter to the President of MADD sent last week, FTCR has asked the group to explain how the actions of the California organization comport with the explicit policies of the national organization, which can be found on its web site: www.madd.org.
Propositions 30 and 31, while barring drunk drivers from filing lawsuits, restores “the rights of injured persons to sue insurers of parties who caused injury, under specified circumstances, for unfair handling of claims,” according to the official summary of the law by the Attorney General of California. California-MADD’s support of the insurance industry position against the propositions and against the legal rights of accident victims directly conflicts with the anti-drunk driver position of MADD’s national policy which states that:
“MADD opposes any measures which will restrict or in any way limit the rights of victims of impaired driving crashes to seek and recover punitive damages in any cause of action arising out of impaired driving crashes.”
With the letter, FTCR attached the stories of two innocent accident victims who were struck by drunk drivers in 1997. One spent two years waiting for a settlement from the drunk drivers’ insurer. The other victim, still in need of back surgery, has yet to receive a settlement two and one-half years after the accident. If the Fair Responsibility Act had been in place, these victims of drunk drivers would have been able to sue the insurance companies for unfairly denying payment of a legitimate claim.
The insurance industry effort to defeat the Fair Responsibility Act, approved by the Legislature and Governor Davis earlier this year, will undo the laws if the ballot referenda receive a majority “No” vote at the polls in March.
The insurance companies’ campaign against the laws has been chastised for its extensive use of front groups to hide the insurers role in the effort. MADD’s position as the most prominent opponent of the referenda does not fit with MADD national policy, which states that the organization should not be used in such a manner:
“[T]he MADD National Organization, MADD State Organizations, and local MADD Chapters should not align themselves with other groups organized to support or oppose tort reform measures. Neither should MADD’s name be used in public service announcements, commercials or other endorsements developed by other groups or coalitions.”
In reviewing documents on the MADD internet site, FTCR found that MADD receives major financial support from at least three insurance companies, including one million dollars from Allstate Insurance Company. Allstate is one of the lead opponents of the Fair Responsibility Act.
“The financial relationship between MADD and insurance companies raises the concern that MADD is only listening to the insurance industry and not hearing the other side,” said Heller. “The role that MADD has taken is sure to harm MADD’s reputation. They have positioned themselves against the interests of DUI victims and in support of the drunk driver’s insurance company. One must wonder: has MADD gone mad?”