How having a foreign driving record can cost you
By Isabel Suarez
I recently came from abroad to take care of my ailing mother and purchased an old car and insurance. I was assured that this made me compliant with Ohio law. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, I rear-ended another vehicle. Following the accident, I exchanged insurance information and contacted the company. After going to court for the infraction and to the probation department for restitution, I was informed that my insurance denied the claim because I did not have an Ohio license. In speaking to several people, I learned that my premiums were three times what others were paying for identical coverage. I am now in the process of paying more than $2,700 for damage. I am incredibly frustrated because I faithfully paid the insurance premiums. Is there anything I can do to go after the insurance company? I have no doubt I have been ripped off!
Unfortunately, the insurance companies have gotten away with this for years. At the end of the day, the consumer still loses. Insurance companies charge as much as they can get away with, including using your credit rating to increase the premium on an established policy, even if you have no traffic infractions.
In Ohio, the Ohio Fraud Enforcement Unit is officially charged with investigating fraud complaints. They can be reached at www.insurance.ohio.gov/company/pages/insfraud. After avoiding my email inquiries, I was finally able to speak with somebody on the phone who would not identify themselves, and who told me it was the consumer’s obligation to know that without a valid license, their claim would be denied.
I also contacted several insurance companies who sell insurance to individuals without state licenses, and was informed that the higher rates were justified by their inability to verify the purchaser’s traffic record in a foreign country. But they avoided any and all answers regarding the denial of claims, even when the premiums were timely and properly made. So why sell it to begin with?
It will give you no comfort to know the number of individuals in your situation ranks in the millions. For example, many illegal aliens who cannot obtain a valid license, at least partially, try to comply with their financial obligation by buying insurance. What they should know is unless they have a valid driver’s license, they should not drive or buy insurance. Trying to do things at least half right will just not work. Mind you, insurance companies are very proactive in trying to attract the minority market (and primarily the Hispanic one). As a result, a minority agent is often given very generous advertising budgets, knowing the coverage they are selling is not worth the paper it is written on. The companies spend millions of dollars on lobbyists and political contributions, which makes the fraudulent investigation a joke. The state is well aware that many publications catering to the minority community advertise the sale of so-called international licenses, knowing they are fraudulent. What is really upsetting is when well-intentioned individuals buy these licenses, they are never told that they are worthless unless obtained from the BMV, which requires proof of legal status.
Both the insurance companies and the state know they are not doing right by the consumer, and that companies either deny payment and even nickel-and-dime their property settlement to legally licensed drivers.
In my opinion, politicians are too deep into it to put their necks on the line. Having said that, I personally have excellent service from my insurance company. My best advice is to make sure whatever driver’s license you have qualifies for the coverage you are being sold. Make sure you research the company, meet your agent personally and read the fine print (and I mean fine). Much is hidden in the “blah, blah, blah.” If you have a valid driver’s license or are in this country with a valid tourist, commercial or student visa, you are eligible for a BMV issued driver’s license, which should ensure this does not happen again. Never settle for the first property settlement they offer if you are on the receiving end of a claim – insist you get paid what your property is worth.
Legal disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and informative purposes only, and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk and are advised to seek an attorney if legal consultation is needed. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed as laws are subject to change. Neither the author, the Dayton City Paper, nor any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
Isabel Suarez is a Cuban-born American who has been practicing law since 1984. Her diverse multicultural and multilingual practice Suarez & Carlin in Old North Dayton especially serves the regions working poor. Isabel is also a board member of and volunteer for the Ohio Intervention
Program. You can reach Isabel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her office located at 765 Troy St. in Dayton at (937) 258-1800.