May 20, 2005

The Honorable Michael E. Busch
Speaker of the House of Delegates
State House
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution today I have vetoed House Bill 1162 - Civil Actions - Burden of Proof - Uninsured Motorist Coverage.

House Bill 1162 allows, for purposes of making a claim for uninsured motorist coverage, a claimant to prove that another driver was uninsured by one of two methods. First, a claimant may submit a certified copy of a Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) record or similar record from another state indicating the absence of insurance coverage on the date of the accident. Second, the claimant may introduce a denial of coverage by: (1) a document submitted by "the insurer that has been identified as the insurer of the motor vehicle" by the MVA or similar agency of another state; (2) a writing signed by the driver or owner of the motor vehicle; and (3) a report, if any, prepared by a law enforcement official who investigated the occurrence. In the event a claimant provides such records, the burden shifts to the defendant insurer to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that either the vehicle or the driver had insurance coverage.

I am unconvinced there is a problem with proving uninsured motorist status. The burden shifting provided for in House Bill 1162 could create confusion where none now exists. At both committee hearings representatives of the Maryland Trial Lawyers testified in favor of the bill and a representative from the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund testified (MAIF) in opposition. In the Senate a representative from Nationwide Insurance supported the bill with amendments. Remarkably, the rest of the insurance industry did not take a position on this bill. As MAIF states in its veto request: "The proponents of HB 1162, before both the House and the Senate, did not describe one single incident or anecdote of injustice under the current system." House Bill 1162 contains the following flaws. First, it does not require sworn testimony of the alleged uninsured motorist, the person who is in the best position to know whether there was any insurance coverage. Second, the fact that a vehicle may not be insured does not mean that the driver does not have insurance. This bill ignores this fact. Third, records of the MVA and insurance carriers may be in error and are not an adequate substitute for the sworn testimony of the driver. Fourth, MVA records often do not reflect a driver's recent changes in an insurance carrier. Fifth, the bill allows a police report to be admissible evidence on the issue of insurance coverage. This is very unreliable evidence on this subject.

House Bill 1162 may result in some indeterminate increase in payments by MAIF. This would result in increased rates for the insureds of MAIF, whose drivers now are paying very high rates. I am sympathetic, however, if there are problems with proving lack of insurance for purposes of claiming uninsured motorist coverage. I would hope that the parties would work together for an agreeable solution.

For the above stated reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 1162.

Very truly yours,
Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.