DayeTime: What’s Maine got that we ain’t got?

(Answer: Inexpensive auto insurance)

What does Avoyelles Parish have in common with Maine?

Well, Maine is called the Pine Tree State and Avoyelles has a lot of pine trees.

Maine also has a significant French influence, bordering Canada’s majority French Quebec Province and one-third French New Brunswick Province.

Maine is known for its really big crawfish. They call them lobsters. I like our “little lobsters” better than their “big crawfish.”

Both states also have a lot of people driving automobiles and buying auto insurance.

It is at this point where there is a marked difference in the two states. It is a difference that is drawing some attention in the Legislature this year.

You see, Maine has the lowest average auto insurance in the nation at $896 a year. Louisiana has the second-highest average insurance cost at $2,339 a year.

I’m no math whiz, but by my calculations that means we are paying over 2.5 times more for auto insurance -- on average -- than those chowder-eaters in Maine.

The national average is $1,470 a year.

Mississippi’s average is about $1,800 a year.

Based on these figures, a person looking for a home along the Mississippi River could apparently save over $500 a year in auto insurance by moving to Natchez instead of Vidalia.

Of course, there are other things to consider when deciding where to move.

For example, is being surrounded by New England Yankees really worth saving almost $1,450 a year on your auto insurance?

I have almost come to the conclusion that the only way to afford auto insurance is to have an accident and hire one of those attorneys from the TV and billboard ads to win you a huge settlement.

The only problem with that plan is that it would only make the insurance premiums go higher for everybody. We might even overtake Michigan as the nation’s No. 1 highest average insurance rate. Michigan’s average is $2,693 a year.

House Bill 372, called the “Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2019” has been passed by the House and has been assigned to a Senate committee for consideration.

Among the points made in the bill are that “motor vehicle accident claims comprise a major portion of the lawsuits filed in Louisiana’s state courts,” which it contends increases auto insurance rates.

The bill calls for reducing auto insurance by creating a legal system that is less inviting to auto accident-related lawsuits.

The bill would also increase the time to file a lawsuit from one year to two -- something I have advocated in this space, based on my decade-plus experience as an auto claims adjustor settling bodily injury claims.

I call the one-year time limit the Personal Injury Lawyer Full Employment Rule (PILFER) because it practically forces anyone who has even a minor injury to hire an attorney to file suit to beat the one-year deadline.

I would recommend extending the time limit to three years because it gives the injured party time to fully heal and gives the insurance company time to obtain and properly evaluate the medical records to reach a fair settlement -- without the need for attorney involvement.

Another proposed reform is to reduce the threshold for a jury trial from $50,000 to $5,000.

That means a case in which the settlement is expected to be over $5,000 could be decided by a jury. At this time, a claim expected to settle at less than $50,000 is decided by a judge. Under the new law, only a minor claim of less than $5,000 could be decided by a judge.

I have read comments from insurance company organizations that point out that in Louisiana, judges are elected. Insurance companies don’t vote. Plaintiffs do.

I don’t necessarily agree with the not-so-subtle innuendo in those comments, but it is a point to consider.

A jury trial can be iffy for both sides.

Juries can be very sympathetic to someone hurt in an accident that is suing the big, bad insurance company.

They may also stop to realize that awarding an excessively high settlement could result in increased premiums for all those drivers not hurt in that accident.

There are other proposals in the bill of a more technical/legal nature that are no doubt important, but better left for discussion in the Legislature than here.

The Louisiana Association of Business & Industry (LABI) said the bill is the “most important one we have seen for quite some time.”

The business organization noted on its website that the law would “implement long-needed and obvious reform to our legal system that will hopefully lead to better auto insurance rates for Louisiana individuals, families and businesses.”

Those of you with teenage drivers may want to check with a realtor in Maine.

The average annual cost to insure a 16-year-old in Louisiana is $11,616. That same teen in Maine could be insured for $4,700.

For almost $7,000 a year, I could probably learn to like lobster and clam chowder -- but would still prefer crawfish and seafood gumbo.

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