S.B. 418 Passed W.Va. Senate, Hits Roadblock in House

March 31, 2005

With 10 days left in West Virginia’s legislative sessions, although the Senate adopted Gov. Joe Manchin’s insurance proposals, SB 418 has stalled in the House.

The bill would bar third party bad faith lawsuits against insurance companies, lawsuits filed by the uninsured party that claim the company has not reasonably tried to resolve a claim. It would replace such lawsuits with administrative complaints filed with the state insurance commissioner. The office could fine offending insurers, but not award damages to claimants.

“It’s really a tight vote on the floor right now,” House of Delegates Speaker Bob Kiss told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel. “It’s a matter of trying to make the bill more sellable.”

SB 418 passed the Senate 27-6 last week, with one absence, after clearing three committees without substantial changes. The House has referred the bill to the Judiciary Committee.

But a closed-door caucus of the House’s majority Democrats revealed deep disagreements over the bill, several delegates who participated told the News and Sentinel.

House Republicans also met in caucus Tuesday and largely support the bill as passed by the Senate, GOP lawmakers said.

The appointment of an informal group to review possible amendments to the bill is being considered. Some lawmakers have proposed stronger penalties from administrative complaints, while others have touted keeping lawsuits as a last resort.

“My understanding from talking with a number of delegates is that one of two things is going to happen,” Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, told the News and Sentinel. “Either the bill will go through as is, or it may go through with some changes.”

Among the proposed changes are allowing the courts to continue handle the claims while changing the language surrounding bad faith claims to eliminate abuses.

Manchin has repeatedly said insurance companies have pledged to knock up to $100 off of every auto policy in the state within 90 days of his bill’s enactment.

“I think it will have the potential to reduce insurance rates,” Ellem said, “but it is something we are going to have to keep a very close eye on.”

The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing Tuesday evening on the bill. It attracted a list of speakers similar to one held in the Senate: insurance agents and business lobbyists who invoked the promise of savings, and trial lawyers who said the bill strips a vital right from consumers.

Topics Legislation Virginia Politics

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