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Greg Mcnown Dec. 20, 2019

It is well known that in Missouri, just like in every other state in the nation, automobile insurance is required for anyone wishing to operate a motor vehicle. People who drive without insurance are subjecting themselves to fines if they are stopped and cannot provide proof of insurance. It can also result in large personal judgments if that person who did not have insurance was at fault in an accident.

Recently, however, the Missouri legislature sought to penalize persons who were involved in an accident that they did not cause, but did not have insurance. In 2013, the Missouri Legislature passed a new law relating to motor vehicle insurance. R.S. Mo. 303.390 significantly curtailed a claimant’s right to a cause of action in a motor vehicle accident if the claimant did not have insurance during the time. The law basically acts as a waiver to collect any noneconomic damages against someone who had insurance on the date of an accident and who caused the accident.

This is significant because many clients expect, when hiring an attorney, that they will not only be compensated for their medical bills, but also for their pain and suffering. This law made it nearly impossible to collect monies for anything but medical expenses. And, if a claimant’s medical bills were paid by a third party such as a health insurance company or Medicare/Medicaid, the chances of getting any money at all would be practically nil.

Many insurance companies pounced on this law and started requiring claimants to produce proof of insurance on the date of the accident. If no proof could be produced, then no damages for pain and suffering would be offered.

The law does have a couple of exceptions to the rule. Most importantly it allows for a claim for noneconomic damages if the insurance policy for a claimant was terminated or not renewed for failure to pay the premium, unless the notice of termination or non-renewal was provided by the insurance company at least six months prior to the date of the accident.

This provision provides a narrow window in which a claim can be brought, and quite frankly, is not applicable to most people that do not already have insurance. Whatever insurance they did have was probably cancelled, either personally or by the insurance company, many moons before an accident.

Fortunately, for these poor souls, the Missouri Constitution comes to their rescue. The framers of the Constitution found it extremely important that a person’s right of trial by jury be inviolate, or free from violation. In other words, the right to a civil jury trial is a personal right. Since R.S. Mo. 303.390 waives a right to a cause of action, a number of Circuit Courts in Missouri, as well as a Federal Court in the Western District of Missouri, have concluded that the law violates the Missouri Constitution. In the Federal case, Jiles v. Schuster Co., 357 F.Supp. 3d 908 (W.D.Mo. 2018), the court cited a Missouri Supreme Court case that stated “civil actions for damages resulting from personal wrongs have been tried by juries since 1820.” The Jiles case directly involves the scenario described above where a party in an accident who did not have insurance was being denied the ability to bring a cause of action for noneconomic damages against the other driver who did cause the accident.

This is a big development for claimants and they should be heartened to know that the Missouri courts have their backs when it comes to filing claims against persons who caused them injuries in motor vehicle accidents.

This development, however, should not be viewed as a “get out of jail free” card allowing persons to drive without insurance. It is still illegal to drive without insurance.

The bottom line is that if you were injured in an accident and someone else was at fault, you need to seek the advice of an attorney, regardless of whether or not you had insurance.