California legislators have crafted a new bill that would require all gun owners to obtain liability insurance for each firearm owned. Gun insurance would work in a similar fashion to car insurance. Rising gun violence is an emotional trigger for everyone, particularly juries in cities where crime is spiking. Accordingly, the plaintiff bar is keenly interested in securing the passage of this bill. Specifically, SB 505 would require the following:
- Gun owners would face strict liability in civil court for property damage, injury, or death caused by the usage of their firearm.
- Strict liability will not apply if the firearm owner reports a gun lost or stolen prior to the damaging incident.
- Every gun owner would have to obtain liability insurance that covers losses or damages resulting from negligent or accidental use of their firearm including property damage, injury or death.
- Gunowner will need proof of insurance and written proof must remain with the firearm even while it is being transported or otherwise used outside the residence, or normal place of storage of the weapon.
- Proof of insurance must be produced if requested by a law enforcement officer.
- Law enforcement officer may not, however, detain an individual solely for the purpose of checking for insurance on a firearm. It may only be requested in the process of questioning for another offense in which the person has a firearm in their possession.
- Violations are punishable as a misdemeanor.
Policy Behind the Legislation
Senator Skinner, who is the sponsor of SB 505, points to a study completed by the Violence Policy Center which found that guns kill more children and teens than auto accidents. In fact, gun deaths outnumber motor vehicle fatalities in 34 states. Gun deaths are up 84% nationwide. Due to this uptick in gun violence and deaths as well as recent events, the California Legislature is currently attempting to pass several pieces of legislation dealing with gun control as well as firearm owner liability.
Proponents of SB 505 say that taxpayers, survivors, families, employers and communities should not bear all of the costs associated with gun violence alone. They advocate that gun owners need to take responsibly for their fair share of the damage.
Opponents argue that any restriction on gun ownership is a direct violation of their constitutional right to bear arms. They strongly oppose this measure as a clear infringement of that fundamental right.
No matter the side of the aisle, this legislation will increase the amount of assets available to victims of gun violence, whether directly involved or tangentially, and the corresponding number of insurance claims in that regard. For this reason, companies that provide insurance coverage are closely watching this bill as it weaves through the legislature; as is the plaintiff bar. If passed, California would be the first state to pass a law of this kind; although states like New York are not far behind. The attorneys at WSHB will keep you apprised of the progress of this California legislation as well as any other laws being considered by states around gun liability insurance.