A bill that would close access to accident reports for 90 days was held without a vote last week in its Senate committee after opponents spoke against it.
When testimony ended, Sen. Allen Paul, R-Richmond, did not ask for a vote on S.B. 84, authored by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg. Paul is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Insurance and Financial Institutions.
Even though Leising exempted the media from the 90-day window of secrecy, HSPA opposes the bill as bad public policy.
S.B. 84 doesn’t deal with behavior it deems inappropriate but instead restricts access to public records as a “fix.”
Leising said her goal is to protect citizens from “ambulance chasers,” primarily lawyers or medical providers who contact individuals who have been injured in traffic accidents.
Four representatives of the insurance industry testified in favor of Leising’s bill.
Stephen Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, and others opposed to the bill pointed out that the Indiana Supreme Court had already addressed the problem of exploitive lawyers with a change in the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The change prohibits attorneys from making in-person, written or electronic solicitations in cases of personal injury or wrongful death within 30 days of an accident or natural disaster.
Charlie Hiltunen, representing a group that uses accident reports to identify people who may have a need for counseling, also testified against the bill.
“There are predators on both sides of the equation,” Hiltunen said.
Insurance companies would benefit if they are able to convince people to sign insurance claim settlements before an attorney could raise questions that might lead the accident victim to seek a higher settlement amount.
Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, aggressively challenged Leising and the insurance representatives as to the need for the bill and asked if insurance company employees should be stopped from contacting accident victims for 30 days.
Indiana State Police Capt. Doug Shelton testified against the bill for another reason. The state police have a contract with a firm that processes the state’s accident reports.
As part of that deal, the vendor sells accident report information to other clients.
Shelton said the bill could destroy the contract, forcing the state police to take over the record-keeping duty, which would cost the state money and not be as efficient as the current arrangement.
Leising indicated a willingness to amend the bill, but HSPA’s position is that trying to extend the list of exceptions to the 90-day window of secrecy doesn’t address the fundamental problem with the bill – that rather than identify and prohibit problem behavior it seals records.
Leising’s bill could be brought up again for a vote in its Senate committee or be allowed to die.