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Originally published October 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 24, 2007 at 3:48 PM

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Yes on R-67 — restoring the balance

The Seattle Times supports Referendum 67, which would give judges the power to award triple damages to people who sue their insurance companies...

The Seattle Times supports Referendum 67, which would give judges the power to award triple damages to people who sue their insurance companies.

The main reason for our support is the imbalance of power between an insurance company and a customer. The customer has paid for the coverage up front. That customer has accepted a contract written by the company, which the company understands better than the customer does. When a loss happens, the company interprets its own contract and decides how much to pay. Because of these imbalances, insurance is the only industry in this state with a publicly elected regulator, which is Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

Kreidler's office investigates complaints, and settles almost all of them. It can fine a company up to $10,000. But it cannot force an insurance company to pay a claim. Only a court can do that.

In the last session in Olympia, the Legislature passed ESSB 5726, sponsored by Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island. Weinstein is a former trial lawyer, and his bill raised the possible winnings from suing an insurance company. The insurers, who failed to stop it in the Democratic Legislature, collected signatures to put R-67 on the ballot, and are spending millions to convince the public to vote "no," which would repeal the new law.

We don't agree with the trial lawyers that there is a crisis in auto and homeowner's insurance, or that insurance companies are as uniformly nasty as the "Yes on 67" ads suggest. But there are always disputes, and the insurance commissioner has only limited power to settle them.

We believe it is not a bad idea to tilt the balance more toward the consumer. The Legislature thought so, and in this case we think the people should try the new law before throwing it out.

The companies say the new law will raise insurance premiums, and probably they are right about that. If they pay out more to victims, it will cost more.

But paying higher premiums may be worth it if it means coverage consumers can count on.

Vote yes on Referendum 67.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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