Hot Air Balloons in Annapolis: Insurance Legislation

Written By: Patricia McHugh Lambert, Esquire

Let me start with the one piece of good news from this year’s Maryland General Assembly.  With the passage of House Bill 499, you will no longer have to pay local amusement taxes when you ride on or in a hot air balloon. Of course, if you drink for courage before you ride that balloon or sleep in a Howard County hotel after you finished that fateful ride, you will pay more taxes. 

Assuming that the balloon is determined to be a vehicle and that it (or any other vehicle) crashed in Maryland after October 1, 2011, then those that were seriously injured or killed would have new rights under Senate Bill 599 and House Bill 921.  They—or their heirs—could petition an insurer to provide, without suit, information regarding the vehicle’s owner policy limits.  While the obligation is upon the insurer to provide this information, there are some protections provided for “agents” of an insurer who provide it to the injured party. 

For those that survived their balloon ride and returned to their condominiums, they could consider their own insurance needs.  Under House Bill 679, a condominium’s council of unit owners, by a vote of 51% (rather than the current threshold of 66 2/3%) would be able to amend its bylaws to require that all unit owners maintain condominium insurance on their units.  The bylaws must, under such circumstances, also require that each unit owner provide to the council of unit owners evidence of insurance. 

For those that drove away from their balloon ride, they would have to be careful.  Under Senate Bill 424/House Bill 196, they can no longer read a text while operating a motor vehicle in the travel portion of the roadway.  And if they were convicted of a violation relating to driving or attempting to drive a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, their insurer, under Senate Bill 885, could cancel or refuse to renew their insurance policy.  If that impaired insured had previously consented to receiving electronic notices, then under Senate Bill 571/House Bill 763 this notice could be delivered by email. 

Now if that troubled balloon ride operator faced staggering debts and filed for bankruptcy, he would, under Senate Bill 132/House Bill 87,  have an easier time finding a job (assuming that a business has a need for an ex-ballooner).  The new law limits an employer’s ability to use an individual’s credit report or credit history to deny employment to a job applicant, discharge an employee, or determine a job applicant’s or employee’s compensation or terms of employment.  While there are certain exemption for financial institutions and those requiring federal credit checks, an employer that violates the law is subject to a fine and administrative action. Once an offer of employment is made, an employer may request a credit report if there is a bona fide, job-related reason for the request. 

Of course, considering the dearth of balloon rides in Maryland, there is a likelihood that our erstwhile balloon operator would likely face unemployment.  Fortunately, Senate Bill 255/ House bill 496 allows a life insurance policy to include a rider or supplemental policy provision that operates to safeguard the contract from lapse in the event of involuntary unemployment.

All of this may make the insurance professionals who read this column want to imbibe in a long, cold adult beverage–assuming no one lets the new tax deter them. 

 

* This article originally appeared in an issue of the Insurance & Financial Advisor. Ms. Lambert is a prominent member of HPK’s Litigation Group and is a regular columnist for the publication. For more information, or to have Ms. Lambert write an article on a topic for your publication, please email plambert@hpklegal.com.