Remembering the UM/UIM Crisis in Ohio

I recently came across an old flyer from 1999 as we were cleaning out file drawers in the OIA office. The title of the flyer: “The Ohio Supreme Court’s Gavel Is Crushing Your Business!”

Fallout from an activist court

While it was before my time at OIA, I've heard the horrendous stories about an extremely activist Supreme Court, which handed down decisions that created havoc in the insurance industry. 

The most egregious decision often cited is Scott Pontzer v. Liberty Mutual.

As ridiculous as it sounds, this decision expanded coverage from an employer’s business auto and commercial umbrella policies to an employee who was killed while driving his wife’s private automobile outside the scope of his employment.

Because of this case and other outrageous decisions handed down by the Court involving UM/UIM that expanded coverage beyond its intent, insurance companies understandably took action.

For example, they suspended the writing of any new commercial auto and umbrella policies in Ohio, raised UM/UIM premiums between 50-100 percent and excluded this coverage at renewal.

This created a real crisis of affordability and availability of UM/UIM for Ohioans in the early 2000s. This took several years to correct through legislative action and an immense effort by the insurance and business community to get new justices elected who would act like judges, not policymakers.

If you are a young agent and didn’t experience this craziness, pay attention.

This really happened… and it’s why OIA has been extremely involved in Ohio Supreme Court races for many years.

Ohio Supreme Court Races Really Do Matter

Fortunately, a lot has changed in the Ohio civil justice system over the past 19 years. The Scott-Pontzer decision was overturned in 2003, along with a plethora of other activist rulings that plagued our judicial system, state economy and insurance marketplace. We bring this up as a reminder to the agent community that the Ohio Supreme Court elections are important to your policyholders, profession and businesses. 

In a crowded election year, it is easy for important issues to get lost, and what matters most to your business future could be buried in mayhem of messaging. And, since Supreme Court races in Ohio are non-partisan, nearly 25% of voters simply opt out of this race if they don’t recognize a name. 

Those who do actually vote in the race may choose to do so based on name alone – not based on actual knowledge of the candidates. Case in point is former Justice Bob Cupp’s election loss to Justice Bill O’Neill in 2012. Justice O’Neill did not raise or spend a single campaign dollar, but still managed to beat Cupp by four percentage points. In the same year, Cupp’s Republican colleagues with Irish last names, Terrence O’Donnell and Sharon Kennedy, won by 38 and 14 percent. 

OIA recommends Justice May DeGenaro and Judge Craig BaldwiN

When it comes to legal stability for the insurance community, and indeed many other industries crucial to Ohio's economic vitality, there are no races more important than the Ohio Supreme Court. Two seats are on the ballot this year. Agents and their clients are without a doubt best served by justices who leverage the bench’s power with a philosophy of judicial restraint and interpret the law on its merits rather than on the opinions of political interest groups and activists.

OIA has spent time evaluating the backgrounds and judicial philosophies of both Justice Mary DeGenaro and Judge Craig Baldwin over the past two years and these are the candidates running for seats on the Court that OIA most trusts to stick to interpretation of the law rather than legislating from the bench. Justice DeGenaro, who was appointed to the Court earlier this year to fill the remainder of William O’Neill’s term, is running to be elected to her first full term on the Court. Judge Craig Baldwin is running to fill the seat of Justice Terrence O’Donnell who is not eligible to run again due to age limits. Given the importance of these races, Ohio Insurance Agents Political Action Committee has made maximum contributions to support both candidates’ campaign committees. 

DeGenaro helped overturn the Scott-Pontzer decision when she was an appellate judge and sat by assignment with the Ohio Supreme Court on Westfield Ins. Co. v. Galatis in 2003.  

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD WITH OIA PAC

Learning about candidates is only one piece of the puzzle. Many candidates need support in this crowded election year. More importantly, they need to hear from leaders, like OIA members, about important issues and how they affect businesses and citizens. OIA PAC provides agents with the opportunity to pool together their financial resources to provide substantial financial support to candidates; and most importantly, to have a collective voice in the political arena. It is imperative that our industry continues to support the election of sensible candidates who will make decisions based on facts, rather than interpretation. Contribute to OIA PAC today. 

OIA's Jeff Smith and Carolyn Mangas with Judge Craig BaldwinOIA's Jeff Smith and Carolyn Mangas with Justice Mary DeGenaro

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