By Russ Dubisky
SC Insurance News Service
While most readers were undoubtedly focused on more high-profile issues of the most recent legislative session, there were several bills that made their way into law that could impact us all as property/casualty insurance consumers.
As the beginning of this session focused on gubernatorial appointments to state agencies, Gov. Nikki Haley named David Black as Director of Insurance. It’s the Director’s job to protect consumers. Part of that protection is ensuring that insurance companies remain solvent so they have the ability to pay claims after a disaster and also making sure rates are not inadequate, excessive, or unfairly discriminatory.
One proposal that was approved this year (3373) corrected a discrepancy that existed in the code of laws. The change removed the requirement that individuals present a valid South Carolina driver’s license in order to purchase auto insurance. The correction now allows people who are not full-time residents of South Carolina, but principally garage a vehicle here (such as “snow-birds”, some military personnel, and other business persons) the ability to purchase insurance with a driver’s license from another jurisdiction. It is sound public policy to allow all drivers, whether they are full-time residents or not, to obtain insurance as more drivers will be protected on our roadways.
Also on the auto insurance side, 3332 was passed to establish insurance premium credits to individuals who participate in qualifying driver training programs. The discount will be determined by each individual insurer. The credit is applied for three years; however insurance companies may require qualifying customers to be accident-free in order to maintain the credit.
Among the more notable pieces of legislation was the tort reform package that capped the limits on punitive damages ($500,000 or 3 times the compensatory damages in most cases). One section of the bill (effective in January of next year) requires that auto insurance companies disclose private information, such as liability limits and coverages, to claimant attorneys upon request. While this provision does exist in other states, it is a change from the current law where policyholder information can be withheld until after a lawsuit has been filed.
During the special session that began June 14th, legislators passed additional requirements for those who buy/sell scrap nonferrous metals such as copper. This bill was introduced in hopes of curbing the theft of copper which has reached epidemic proportions here in South Carolina. From an insurance standpoint, this is an important and expensive issue for both policyholders and the companies. Insurers often have to pay thousands more than just the few hundred dollars to replace the copper wiring. They pay to repair damaged walls and water damage if pipes are taken from water heaters, and to replace the entire a/c units if copper is taken from the condenser within. Policyholders are stuck having to cover the policy’s deductible for the loss and could potentially lose a discount for being claim free.
A broad coalition (including insurance companies, farmers, law enforcement, and scrap dealers) successfully worked with lawmakers to take steps that will hopefully deter theft by increasing penalties, requiring permits to sell scrap metal, and eliminating cash transactions. However, citizens are still encouraged to protect themselves. Installing steel or iron cages can protect your air conditioner from theft and could earn individuals a discount on their insurance.