Written by Randall C. Lenhart, Jr.
Edited by Bill Pfund
Virginia does not require motor vehicle liability coverage for its motorists. Instead, Virginia motorists are free to choose whether or not to purchase liability insurance for their vehicles. But if they decide not to insure their vehicles they must pay a $500 “uninsured motorist fee” at the time of registration of the uninsured vehicle.
Virginia does require though that all certified motor vehicle liability policies issued or delivered in the Commonwealth provide minimum insurance coverage to the insured in the amount of $25,000 because of bodily injury to or death of one person in any one accident and in the amount of $50,000 because of bodily injury to or death of two or more persons in any one accident. Virginia also requires minimum coverage of $20,000 for property damage. These minimum limits are codified in Virginia Code § 46.2-472 and have been set in the current amounts for over 30 years.
Earlier this year, SB 664 was introduced which would have increased the minimum motor vehicle liability insurance coverage limits from $25,000 to $100,000 in cases of bodily injury to or death of one person, from $50,000 to $200,000 in cases of bodily injury to or death of more than one person in any one accident, and from $20,000 to $40,000 for property damage coverage. The Senate Transportation Committee amended the Bill to reduce the increases from $25,000 to $35,000 in cases of bodily injury to or death of one person and from $50,000 to $70,000 in cases of bodily injury to or death of more than one person in any one accident. The original recommendation increasing the property damage coverage to $40,000 remained in the amended Bill.
The Virginia Senate passed the amended Bill 31 to 8 with 1 abstention. However, the Virginia House of Delegates Committee on Labor and Commerce defeated the amended Bill 10-9 with 3 members not voting.
If the amended Bill had been passed by the House of Delegates and approved by Governor Ralph Northam, the amended Bill would have increased, in most cases, the minimum limits for UM/UIM coverage as well. This is because Virginia Code § 38.2-2206 requires the UM/UIM limits to be equal to the liability limits, unless one of the named insureds under the policy rejects the coverage amounts. The amended Bill would also likely have raised insurance premiums for Virginia motorists that select the minimum limits.
The practical effect of raising the minimum limits with respect to personal injury cases is that the settlement value and trial value of certain cases would increase. This is because some cases are simply limited by the amount of insurance coverage available. Another potential effect of increasing the minimum limits in the future could be the Virginia Legislature raises the jurisdictional limits of the General District Court. Currently, the jurisdictional limits of the General District Courts in Virginia is $25,000 exclusive of costs and attorneys’ fees. If the minimum limits are raised to $35,000, we can expect some members of the Virginia Legislature to push, at some point, for an increase of the jurisdictional limits of the General District Courts to match the minimum limits of motor vehicle liability policies.