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3:24 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Senator: Does insurance bill protect consumers, or just more money for legal battles?

Fann differs with other lawmakers, local insurance agents on proposed changes

Personnel work a three-vehicle collision in April 2015 on Willow Creek Road in Prescott. Legislation could increase legal minimums for car insurance.

Personnel work a three-vehicle collision in April 2015 on Willow Creek Road in Prescott. Legislation could increase legal minimums for car insurance.

It’s been more than four decades since the mandatory minimum liability insurance for drivers was set.

That law requires purchase of so-called 15/30/10 liability: $15,000 for injury to any one person, $30,000 for all injuries in a single accident, and $10,000 for damage to property, including someone else’s vehicle.

A new bill working its way through the legislature would raise those minimums. SB 1111 would increase those limits to $25,000, $50,000 and $25,000, respectively.

Lawmakers in favor of the bill say the change is necessary to cover the current costs of being in an accident.

Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, was the lone dissenting vote when the bill passed the Senate Committee on Transportation, 6-1. She had a couple of problems with it.

“First of all, the bill was brought to us by the (Arizona) Trial Lawyers (Association),” she said, “so I wonder: how much is this trying to protect the consumer? Or is it really about raising the limits so there would be more for legal battles?”

More importantly, Fann said, raising premiums would hit lower-income drivers hardest.

“Statistics show, in other states, that, when you raise the insurance premiums on these, you’re going to end up having a higher percentage of people that cannot afford it, and they’re just going to go without insurance.”

But Eric Strobel, a Prescott Valley State Farm Insurance agent, said the minimums need to be increased.

“I think our state limits are way too low,” he said, and that “there are a fair amount” of customers who carry only the minimum legal insurance.

“$15,000, if you hit someone, won’t go very far to offset the medical costs,” he said, “and $10,000 on the property damage side — you can look around at what kind of cars are driving around out there (and) $10,000 wouldn’t cover a lot of them, if you had to total (them) out.”

Strobel said the cost difference for a customer to get those new insurance levels would be “minimal.”

An independent insurance agent in Prescott, Blake Mintz, said that a savvy driver shouldn’t need to worry about buying the minimum in the first place.

“We don’t usually write the legal minimum,” he said.

“Number one, it’s very low coverage, and number two, you’re missing out on many discounts where you could have a lower premium and better coverage than carrying just the state minimum.”

Mintz noted that these policies are dependent on many factors, from the driver’s age to zip code.

A policy with the new minimums could cost as little as $10 per month more, said independent Prescott agent Lori Sells, which is not much for the jump in coverage.

And, even so, the new minimums probably aren’t enough. “If you think about what those coverages pay for, even $25,000 isn’t very much money,” Sells said, considering what medical bills can be.

“Insurance is there to protect your assets. Assets aren’t always in your bank account. Young people’s assets are their future,” Sells said.