In almost every state in the US, car owners are required by law to have vehicle insurance in order to legally drive (the only two exceptions are Virginia and New Hampshire). In every state where carrying car insurance is mandatory, there are consequences for not having insurance or being an uninsured motorist. For example, in Oklahoma if you are asked by law enforcement to provide proof of insurance and you don’t have coverage, you may be subject to a $250 fine, jail time of up to 30 days, and possible suspension of your driver’s license.
However, in a handful of states, consequences for not having car insurance extend further through “No Pay, No Play” laws which often disproportionately affect uninsured victims in car accidents. Beginning in 2011 as part of tort reform measures, Oklahoma became one of these “No Pay, No Play” states. But in 2014, a local Tulsa attorney dedicated to equity and defending the rights of his clients changed that.
What Is “No Pay, No Play”?
So what exactly is “No Pay, No Play,” why was it implemented, and why did it need to end?
“No Pay, No Play” laws limit the amount of compensation an uninsured victim of an automobile collision can receive after an accident, despite the fact that the injured party was not at fault. Basically, these laws aim to prevent uninsured victims in an accident from receiving compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance after an accident because the uninsured victim would not be able to compensate the other driver if the tables were turned. The laws work to prevent uninsured drivers from benefiting from an insurance system to which they do not contribute. In protecting the insurance companies, injury victims’ constitutional rights to access the court were diminished.
In Oklahoma, the “No Pay, No Play” measure specifically barred uninsured car accident victims from recovering non-economic damages, including those for pain and suffering. The “No Pay, No Play” measure was also used by insurance companies to limit the amount of damages uninsured victims could seek for economic losses like medical costs, property damage, and lost income, although the law was not intended for this purpose
“No Pay, No Play” was implemented in Oklahoma along with several other tort reform bills. Tort reform is designed to change or implement laws which reduce the amount of damages people can claim through litigation. These reforms are implemented for various reasons. In the case of “No Pay, No Play,” proponents of the law argue “No Pay, No Play” will make litigation and benefiting from the insurance system more fair by limiting access to those who don’t participate in that system. In addition, advocates for these laws contend that “No Pay, No Play” will encourage more people to carry insurance and thereby decrease the number of uninsured motorists on the road.
However, as Tulsa attorney Joe Norwood aptly points out, “No Pay, No Play” does not have a substantial impact on the number of insured motorists, and the only group that really benefits from it are insurance companies. Uninsured drivers who cause accidents aren’t penalized by the law. Instead, the full weight of punishment falls unjustly on car accident victims.
Montgomery v. Potter: The Case for Changing Oklahoma Law
The effects of “No Pay, No Play” on innocent victims can be fully seen in the case Montgomery v. Potter that trial attorney Joe Norwood took all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Case Background: A Life-Changing Car Accident
A young woman, a 25-year-old dental assistant with two children, was driving with her three-year-old son when they were rear-ended by another driver. The mother was knocked unconscious in the accident and taken to the hospital where doctors found she had a severe back injury that would require surgery. This injury and the resulting surgery would likely result in a lifetime of chronic pain and other effects of back surgery, something no 25 year old plans for.
The injury, surgery, and treatment would also result in medical bills totaling more than $100,000. To a single mother with two children those costs were overwhelming, not to mention the struggle of taking care of her children while recovering from surgery. But for this Tulsa woman, getting the financial recovery and damages she needed was not going to be easy. She turned to Joe Norwood for help.
The victim’s ex-husband was responsible for paying the premiums on her car insurance. And he had failed to pay, allowing the insurance policy to lapse for 60 days before the accident, leaving her uninsured and subject to the consequences of “No Pay, No Play.” Through no fault of her own, this single, young mother was rear-ended, uninsured and left to deal not only with the fine for driving without insurance, her car being towed, but also the penalty of not being eligible for compensation for pain and suffering.
The other driver’s insurance company invoked the “No Pay, No Play” measure to justify offering the victim enough to cover property damage but only $2,500 for her medical expenses, and nothing for future medical expenses related to her back injury.
Taking the Case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court
The woman and her lawyer, Joe Norwood of Norwood Law Firm in Tulsa, rejected the $2,500 offer from the insurance company and took the case to court. Mr. Norwood knew that his client was being treated unjustly and was being denied her fundamental right to access the court and seek reparation. He questioned the very constitutionality of the “No Pay, No Play” law.
In the Oklahoma State Constitution, there is a Special Law clause which prohibits legislation that “favors a particular person or corporation.” It prohibits laws which create special classes of people who are favored or disfavored in law. Mr. Norwood argued that the “No Pay, No Play” law was an unconstitutional special law which singled out uninsured victims of car accidents.
Norwood represented the victim’s case all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which ruled that the “No Pay, No Play” law was an “impermissible special law” and that it “creates an impermissible special class by restricting damages . . . for victims who also happen to be uninsured drivers while the general class of automobile accident victims is not prevented from the recovery of damages for pain and suffering.” Ruled unconstitutional, this effectively ended “No Pay, No Play” in Oklahoma.
Joe Norwood fought for his client’s rights all the way to challenging an unjust law and making positive change happen both for her and, in the case of “No Pay, No Play,” all Oklahomans.
When You Need Representation, You Can Count On Norwood Law Firm
Just as he represented his client in the “No Pay No Play” litigation, Tulsa attorney Joe Norwood is dedicated to representing you. He has years of experience in both criminal law and civil cases. Whether you have been involved in a car accident, or you are dealing with a personal injury case, a family case, or you need a criminal defense, Joe Norwood and the team of attorneys and legal professionals at Norwood Law firm are dedicated to fighting for your rights. They have the ability and expertise necessary to make real change happen in your case.
Whatever problem you may be facing, Norwood Law Firm in Tulsa is here for you. Call us today for a consultation.