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AGO 1959 No. 38 - May 25, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

MOTOR VEHICLES - FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY - EFFECT OF CHAPTER 38, LAWS OF 1959, INCREASING THE LIABILITY INSURANCE LIMITS.

(1) The increased financial responsibility insurance requirements provided under the 1959 amendment do not apply to persons who have previously proven their ability to respond in damages under the prior law until application for operators' license renewal.

(2) A blanket endorsement from an affected insurance carrier covering all its insured whose proof of financial responsibility has been shown by certificate of that carrier, will suffice as proof of the insured's ability to respond in damages in the increased amount.

(3) An individual involved in an accident after the 1959 amendment becomes effective cannot be excused from depositing security to cover damages or injury by showing that at the time of the accident he had liability insurance with coverage limits lower than that required by the amendment but greater than any claimed damages or injuries.

                                                                  - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                   May 25, 1959

Honorable Louise S. Taylor
Director, Department of Licenses
General Administration Building
State Capitol
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 38

Attention:  Anthony C. Bertocchini

Dear Madam:

            You have requested an opinion on three questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Do the increased insurance requirements provided under section 3, chapter 38, Laws of 1959, apply to persons who have proven their ability to respond in damages under the prior law, RCW 46.24.040, which provided for lower insurance limits,  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] and are currently required to have on file continuing proof of the ability to respond in damages?

            (2) Will a blanket endorsement from an affected insurance carrier, covering all its insured whose proof of financial responsibility has been shown by certificate of that carrier, suffice as proof of the insured's ability to respond in damages in the increased amount?

            (3) Whether a person involved in an accident after section 10, chapter 38, Laws of 1959, becomes law, can be excused from depositing security to cover damages or injury by showing that at the time of the accident he had liability insurance with coverage limits lower than that required by the new law but greater than any claimed damages or injuries?

            We answer questions one and three in the negative, and question two is answered in the affirmative as qualified in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The first question relates to the amount of liability insurance limits which will be accepted as sufficient proof of ability to respond in damages, after the effective date of the act in question, June 11, 1959.  Section 3, chapter 38, Laws of 1959 (RCW 46.24.040), provides as follows:

            "The operator's license shall remain suspended and shall not at any time thereafter berenewed, nor shall any such license be thereafter issued to such person, including a person not previously licensed, who by final order or judgment has been convicted of, pleaded guilty to, or forfeited bail or collateral deposited to secure his appearance for trial of (where such forfeiture has not been vacated), any such offense or for operating a motor vehicle upon the public highways without being licensed to do so, until he gives proof of his ability to respond in damages for any liability thereafter incurred, resulting from the ownership, maintenance, use, or operation thereafter of a motor vehicle, for personal injury to or death of any one person in the amount of at least ten thousand dollars, and, subject to the aforesaid limit for any one person injured or killed, of at least twenty thousand dollars for personal injury to or death of two or more  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] persons in any one accident, and for damage to property in the amount of at least five thousand dollars resulting from any one accident."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The precise question herein is whether the above section as amended requires persons who have given proof of ability to respond in damages under the present law, RCW 46.24.040, to give proof of ability to respond in damages in the increased amounts.

            The 1959 amendatory section differs from RCW 46.24.040, the present statute, only in the increased amount to which the person must prove his ability to respond.

            The supreme court of the state of Washington has enunciated several rules of statutory construction which are helpful in interpreting statutes such as the one here in question.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn. (2d) 390, 399, 191 P. (2d) 858 (1948) sets out the basic rule of statutory construction as follows:

            "The fundamental object or purpose of all judicial construction or interpretation is to ascertain, if possible, and to give effect to, theintention of the lawmakers in enacting the particular statute. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            State v. Houck, 32 Wn. (2d) 681, 684, 203 P. (2d) 693 (1949) provides additional assistance wherein it is said:

            "Where the language of a statute is plain, free from ambiguity, and devoid of uncertainty, there is no room for construction because the meaning will be discovered from the wording of the statute itself. . . ."

            The controlling section directs that no license shall be issued or renewed unless certain proof of ability to respond in damages has been given.  If added to the words "issued" or "renewed" was the phrase "or continued in effect" we would have no hesitation to conclude that those persons who have complied with the present law would have to comply with the amendment by showing proof of financial responsibility in the additional amounts.  Likewise, if the statute expressly excluded such persons we would have no difficulty in concluding that they need not comply until they made application for renewal.  This is not to say, however, that the act is therefore ambiguous or unclear.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Literally construed we believe that the act in question provides for proof of financial responsibility upon "issue" or "renewal."  Our conclusion is supported by reference to another basic rule of statutory construction.  In the case ofIn re Wind's Estate, 32 Wn. (2d) 64, 69, 200 P. (2d) 748 (1948), our court said:

            "That a statute will be construed as having a prospective operationonly, unless it is plainly indicated that it shall operate retrospectively, is so well settled that it needs no citation. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is clear that some retroactive effect would be given the act in question if persons who have complied with the present statute would be required to give proof of financial responsibility in the raised amounts.  The department of licenses would have to review old files to determine who was affected.  Those affected would have to make additional showing of their ability to respond in damages despite the fact that they had complied with the law in effect at the time their license was issued.

            We therefore conclude that persons who have complied with the present law need not make a showing of their ability to respond in damages in the increased amounts provided in section 3, chapter 38, Laws of 1959, until they apply for renewal of their licenses.

            The second question relates to the type of certificate or other writing required to show that a particular driver has complied with section 3, chapter 38, Laws of 1959.  We have concluded in our discussion of the first question that the operator need not comply until he makes application for renewal of his license.  Because of administrative problems both the department of licenses and certain affected insurance companies have indicated their desire that proof of increased coverage be made by a blanket certificate, which, in effect, would provide that each carrier certify that all of the persons for whom they had previously furnished certificates are covered in the increased amounts unless otherwise specifically provided.  If individual certificates are required, the affected section within the department of licenses would be burdened beyond the capabilities of its present staff.  Nor are there funds available for an increase in personnel to accomplish the resultant increase in workload.

            The only statute dealing with the form which proof of the ability to respond in damages following suspension should follow is RCW 46.24.070, which provides, in part, as follows:

            "Proof of ability to respond in damages, when required under this chapter, may be evidenced by any of the following:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            "(1) A written certificate of any insurance carrier duly authorized to do business within this state, that it has issued to or for the benefit of the person named therein a motor vehicle liability policy or policies in the form hereinafter prescribed, which, at the date of the certificate, are in full force and effect, and designating therein by explicit description or by other adequate reference, all motor vehicles to which the policy or policies apply.  The director shall not accept any certificate unless it specifies the name, address, and the business, if any, of the insured, the kind of insurance afforded by the policy, the premium charged therefor, the policy period, and the limits of liability, nor unless it covers all motor vehicles then registered in this state in the name of the person furnishing proof. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            From the above underscored language and the subsequent wording which sets forth precisely what must appear in each certificate, it is clear that the legislature has delegated very little discretionary authority to the director of licenses.  The phrase:  ". . . The director shall not accept any certificate unless . . ." and thereafter prescribing the necessary components of each certificate, restricts administrative discretion to an extreme.

            It is noteworthy that the statutes provide no express guide as to the form that amendments to the provided certificates should follow.  A rather persuasive argument can be made that since the legislature has provided a detailed method for the proof of ability to respond by virtue of liability insurance, and that since no other method of proof is specifically authorized, that the legislature intended that the prescribed method be exclusive and that amendments to the certificate must therefore comply with the basic procedure as fully as the initial certificate.

            Conversely, it can be argued without doing violence to the purposes of the act that since no particular procedure is provided for amendment of the original certificate, that blanket certification would constitute substantial compliance with the statute.  Certainly a distinction between one procedure requiring individual amendatory certificates and another procedure allowing a blanket certificate amendatory of all original certificates of a particular carrier is a distinction of form rather than substance.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            Having regard for the principles of statutory construction applied in our analysis of the first question, we conclude that in the absence of specific legislative direction that any procedure which is in substantial compliance with the purposes and objects of the act is acceptable.  The proposed blanket amendment is, we believe, such a procedure.

            The third question, which we have answered in the negative, relates to the effect of the increase in liability insurance rates where a showing of financial responsibility is required following an accident.  Sections 6 through 10, chapter 38, Laws of 1959, are amendatory of RCW 46.28.010 through 46.28.050.  All of the above sections are exactly the same in the amendments as in the present act, except that the insurance limits have been raised.

            RCW 46.28.010 requires that the operator of any motor vehicle involved in an accident of a more serious nature make report of the same to the director of licenses.  RCW 46.28.020 requires that security be deposited with the director in an amount fixed by the director sufficient to satisfy all judgments for damages resulting from such accident.  RCW 46.28.030 provides for certain exceptions to the requirement to post security where the licensee was financially responsible at the time of the accident.  Liability insurance covering damages arising from the accident is among the provided exceptions.  RCW 46.28.050 provides, in part, as follows:

            "No insurance policy or bond shall be deemed effective under RCW 46.28.050 unless such policy or bond:

            "(1) Is subject, if the accident has resulted in bodily injury or death, to a limit, exclusive of interest and cost, of not less than five thousand dollars because of bodily injury to or death of one person in any one accident and, subject to said limit for one person, to a limit of not less thanten thousand dollars because of bodily injury to or death of two or more persons in any one accident, and, if the accident has resulted in damage to or destruction of property, to a limit of not less thanone thousand dollars because of damage to or destruction of property of others in any one accident."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Section 10, chapter 38, Laws of 1959 amends the foregoing by substituting in the place of the underscored amounts in the order stated the words "ten thousand dollars," "twenty thousand dollars," and "five thousand dollars," respectively.  Other than these changes the foregoing sections of chapter 46.28 RCW are unchanged.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            The rules of construction set forth in our discussion of the first question are equally applicable here.  The intention of the legislature can be found from the clear language of the act.  The statute presently and as amended provides that a person may be excepted from the requirement of posting security, among several ways, by giving proof of liability insurance in certain amounts which covers his liability for the accident in question.  Clearly the legislature intended that the time for determining whether a person may be so excused is the time of the accident in question.  If the accident occurs subsequent to the effective date of the amendment in question it would appear that the licensee would have to either post security or satisfy one of the exceptions provided in the law in effect at that particular time.  The language of the statute is so clear that no other construction is possible.  Subsequent to June 11, 1959, the date that chapter 38, Laws of 1959, takes effect a person who is involved in an accident which requires the posting of security or in the alternative qualification under one of the listed exceptions, and who desires to qualify by posting proof of insurance covering his liability for an accident must do so in the increased amounts provided therein.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

CHARLES R. JOHNSON
Assistant Attorney General

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