Oregon SB-758 First State Bill for Effective Gun Insurance

Senators Dingfelder and Burdick with Representative Denbrow have introduced a bill in the Oregon Legislature (SB-758) which is the first effective plan for gun insurance that would provide for victims. It works by imposing strict liability on a gun owner for injuries associated with a gun even for one year after the gun is lost or stolen. There is no limitation to economic damages as is typical of no-fault motor vehicle insurance. The limits are set quite high at $250,000 for physical injury or death.

This bill is very different than all of the bills so far introduced in other states (7 so far) in being effective in covering injuries without the necessity of proving fault or negligence on the part of the gun owner. It is designed to protect the injured person rather than the purchaser of the insurance. Strict liability is a legal concept of absolute responsibility imposed on persons who are involved in activities which are unusually dangerous such as keeping wild animals or using high explosives. While it has been in the common law for centuries in certain situations, it’s typically imposed by specific state legislation. In this case it allows liability to follow the gun for one year after it is reported stolen and forever if the loss or theft is never reported.

The liability of the gun owner is limited to the amount of the insurance but there are no restrictions in the bill as to the types of damages for injuries that are covered. Physical injuries and injuries to property are limited to $250,000 and other (non-physical) injuries to persons to $100,000. This insurance is designed to eliminate litigation as to negligence but leaves litigation in place as the way to determine the amount of damages. It is not likely to reduce the number of lawsuites.

Enforcement of the insurance requirement is by imposition of a civil penalty of $10,000 per gun on gun owners who do not maintain insurance. There is no requirement that the insurer maintain responsibility beyond the term of the insurance except for incidents occuring in the policy term. Owners would be required to maintain the insurance during the coverage period after loss of the gun. It seems likely that financially irresponsible gun owners will drop coverage needed to aquire a gun and risk being assessed the civil penalty if they are caught with the gun. It’s not clear that a gun owner would be responsible under the strict liability to an injuried person in that case, but they would probably be “judgement proof” in not having assets to pay in that case anyway.

This bill has many of the points advocated by this blog:

  1. Having insurance attached to the gun
  2. Covering lost or stolen guns
  3. Having a No-Fault nature for compensation
  4. Not requiring guns be registered or reported to the government
  5. Covering all kinds of injuries regardless of intent
  6. Leaving existing tort liability in place
  7. No exclusion of coverage for suicide

It falls short in:

  1. Requiring litigation to establish damages
  2. Not effectively enforcing a continuing requirement for insurance
  3. Requiring too much interaction between the government and gun owners
  4. Having coverage of lost or stolen guns expire too quickly
  5. Allowing exclusion of a named person

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