In the State of Nebraska, a guest passenger may recover for damages or injuries caused by a vehicular accident, but not the relative of the insured the driver. This is the statute that the bill introduced by State Senator Norm Wallman seeks to repeal.
According to Wallman, an incident involving a constituent brought his attention to this dilemma. The constituent figured in a car mishap driven by a relative. Seeking indemnification, the latter found out that because of an existing law, recovery for damages would not be possible. Being hospitalized for more than seven days, the man had to shoulder medical costs not covered by his own medical insurance.
In his Introducer’s Statement of Intent, Wallman stated that an old law in Nebraska allowed recovery for damages for injuries sustained by a passenger only if the driver was found guilty of gross negligence. In 1981, amendments were introduced and recoveries were made available only to those relatives of the driver within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity. This was later known as the “guest statute.” To restate current law, it simply means that spouses, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren and siblings and in-laws are not entitled to recovery unless “gross” negligence was committed by the driver. But gross negligence involves a “willful” act.
The senator illustrated the effect of the guest statute. He said that a son injured in a motor accident driven by his mother would not be paid by the insurer, but his friend who just happened to tag-along may expect indemnification. In what he termed as “inequities,” a mistress or a girlfriend may recover for damages in an accident brought about by his boyfriend but his legal wife may not.
Twenty six senators gave first-round approval to the proposal which is also called Legislative Bill 216 (LB 216). Sixteen lawmakers however, opposed advancing said bill. Senator Tom Carlson feared that if the bill is passed, premium rates would climb up to 3% or 5% higher. Others lawmakers stated that being in the nature of a government mandate, such would hike auto insurance costs.
Senator John Nelson pointed out that Nebraskans who would want to have their family covered should sign-up for a rider in their policy. A rider may provide additional benefits not found in the original insurance agreement but bill supporters refuted this by saying that few consumers know that they would still need riders to cover their relatives.
Senator Brad Ashford, on the other hand, noted that the guest statute is a “holdover” and an “oddity.” This is due to the fact that there are only nine states in the country which has the same exclusion of relatives.