Panel recommends raising minimum auto liability insurance coverage

? People who buy only the minimum required liability insurance for their automobiles may have to pay a dollar or two more each month in the future, under a bill recommended by a special legislative committee.

The Legislature’s Special Committee on Insurance voted Monday to raise the minimum coverage limit for property damage liability for the first time since 1981.

But the joint Special Committee on Insurance balked at requests to raise other coverage limits, specifically for bodily injuries caused to the victims of car crashes, despite the skyrocketing increases in medical costs that have occurred over the last 35 years.

That will come as a disappointment to people like Rodelio Gales, a Wichita resident who told the panel that his family’s life was turned upside down after his infant daughter was severely injured in a 2014 accident.

“The medical bills were huge,” Gales said. “After just two weeks in the hospital, Wesley (Medical Center) called my attorney and said the medical bills were in excess of $430,000. Her current medical care costs are in excess of $1 million.”

Under current Kansas law, however, motorists are only required to carry liability insurance that pays up to $25,000 for bodily injuries to another driver, or $50,000 if there is more than one person in the other vehicle. And the minimum coverage for property damage is set at $10,000 – less than the average price of a new car.

Gales was among several people who urged passage of a bill introduced in the 2015 session that would have doubled those limits, to $50,000 for a single injury, and $100,000 for multiple injuries. Advocates for that bill said it would result in an average $4.31 per month increase in premiums for those policies.

But insurance industry officials argued that about 90 percent of all insured drivers on the road in Kansas carry more insurance than that. Those who only carry the minimum required liability coverage, they said, tend to be younger drivers and those living on lower incomes.

Even a modest increase in premiums for them would only increase the number of uninsured motorists on the road, industry officials argued.

Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, the committee’s chairman, said Kansas still ranks about in the middle of the pack for minimum coverage limits among states. And he said raising the limit on bodily injury costs probably wouldn’t help people like Gales who were victims of worst-case scenario accidents.

“There’s really no amount you can raise enough to take care of the worst stories,” Schwab said. “You’re always going to have those horror stories where somebody got hit, and somebody ended up as a quadriplegic and there wasn’t enough insurance. There’s no amount of car insurance you want to set a liability limit on, unless you only want the upper 3 percent driving on the road, and that doesn’t help anybody.”

On raising the property damage limit, Schwab said, the cost to consumers should be minimal because most property damage claims from auto accidents are for less than $2,000.

“What this is going to help is when there’s a car totaled, and you hit a car that’s over $10,000,” he said. “And this only affects people who are at minimum liability limits. So it’s really going to help them, because if they do (cause) that property damage, it’s going to go against their credit until they pay for it.”

The committee recommended introducing a new bill during the 2016 session to raise the minimum limits on property damage to $25,000.

The 2016 session begins Jan. 11.