Proposition 213: Unlicensed Permissive Users

By on August 2, 2012 - Comments off

Landeros v. Torres, (Fifth District, May 24, 2012) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2012 WL 1869682

A woman who suffered severe brain damage when she was involved in an automobile collision, filed an action for personal injuries against the drunk driver who had collided with her vehicle. Prior to trial the defendant moved under Civil Code § 3333.4 to exclude any evidence of noneconomic damages, on the grounds that the plaintiff was an unlicensed driver who was operating her father’s vehicle at the time of the accident. The defendant argued that the plaintiff had never obtained any insurance on her own behalf, had never taken any driver training courses, and did not qualify for insurance.

The trial court denied the motion, holding that because the plaintiff was a permissive user under her father’s policy, § 3333.4 did not apply. The court of appeal affirmed a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, rejecting the argument that the plaintiff’s unlicensed status prevented her from recovering noneconomic losses:

“Torres repeatedly asserts that because Landeros was unlicensed, she could not obtain insurance, and therefore section 3333.4 precludes recovery of noneconomic damages. This argument, in reality, is a request that we add a new exclusion to section 3333.4, one based on whether the injured driver properly was licensed. Torres argues the public policies that resulted in the passage of Proposition 213 and the enactment of section 3333.4 also support a limitation on recovery of damages for unlicensed drivers.
. . .
Section 3333.4 does not contain any reference to unlicensed drivers. Therefore, we may resolve this issue based on the words of the statute itself with no need to rely on the intent of the Legislature or the supporters of Proposition 213. Since the words of the statute do not preclude unlicensed drivers from recovering noneconomic damages if they are insured under a policy of insurance, we must reject Torres’s argument.
. . .
[W]hen analyzing section 3333.4 issues, the question is the existence of insurance, not whether the injured driver was licensed. Whether section 3333.4 should be amended to preclude unlicensed drivers from recovering noneconomic damages, or whether the Insurance Code should be amended to preclude insurance coverage for permissive users who are unlicensed, are issues to be addressed by the Legislature.
. . .
Torres urges us to focus only on section 3333.4 and the goals that statute was intended to achieve when it was enacted through the initiative process. The public policy established thereby, according to Torres, must take precedence in this case. His error, however, is to ignore the long-established policy of this state requiring automobile drivers to be responsible financially for negligently caused damages and the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Legislature to further this policy by requiring every automobile insurance policy to include coverage for permissive users, including unlicensed permissive users.”

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