AUGUSTA — Three years ago, Sharon and Herb Thompson were traveling on Route 201 in Fairfield when a car coming in the opposite direction crossed the centerline.

Sharon Thompson, whose ankle was almost severed in the crash that followed, was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Bangor. Her husband’s heart was punctured by a broken rib.

The driver of the other car had the minimum liability insurance required by the state – $50,000 per injured person – but it wasn’t enough to pay the $125,000 in medical bills that the couple incurred, or the lost wages for the months they spent out of work.

The Benton residents say they want to help other Mainers avoid a similar predicament. They’re pushing to double the minimum amount of liability insurance that all Maine drivers must buy.

L.D. 125 would raise the minimums for liability insurance from $25,000 to $50,000 for property damage and from $50,000 to $100,000 for the death or injury of a person.

On Tuesday, the Thompsons testified in support of the bill, which was submitted on their behalf by their state representative, David Cotta, R-China.

They told the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee that while they fought with insurance companies, unpaid medical bills piled up and a lien was placed on their home.

“You have all these injuries and are trying to heal, and you get struck by a baseball bat right in the eye,” Herb Thompson said. “Everybody was out getting money for something. It was horrible.”

At Tuesday’s public hearing, committee members expressed sympathy for the Thompsons and praised their presentation. However, there didn’t appear to be much enthusiasm for the bill.

The committee took no action.

Lobbyists for the insurance industry said the bill would raise the cost of insurance and cause many people to drop liability policies.

Maine already has one of the highest minimum liability insurance requirements in the country, said Bruce Gerrity, representing the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Minimum liability insurance for a Maine resident with a good driving record costs about $500 a year. The bill would raise that by an estimated $75, said Mila Kofman, the state’s superintendent of insurance. Eighteen percent of Maine’s drivers carry only liability insurance.

Maine has done a good job over the years to lower the percentage of motorists who don’t have liability insurance, said Sen. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, a member of the committee.

In the 1980s, 15 percent to 20 percent of motorists had no liability insurance. Today, only about 4 percent do not have it. In fact, Maine has the lowest percentage of uninsured drivers, according to industry statistics.

Liability premiums in Maine, on average, are 30 percent less than the national average, Gerrity said.

Brannigan said, “You don’t always want to go with the industry, but we have done well and have pushed people to get insurance.”

Because of incidents like the one involving the Thompsons, he said, the committee might look at ways to encourage people to buy higher levels of insurance to protect themselves from uninsured and underinsured people. Drivers, as part of their liability insurance, are now required to buy uninsured-motorist coverage of at least $100,000 per accident.

After the hearing, Herb Thompson said higher liability limits would protect someone else from the kind of ordeal that he and his wife went through.

“I feel obliged to come down here and straighten this out,” he said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at: [email protected]