Those television commercials offering accident forgiveness to drivers who otherwise had spotless records sound enticing.
But under Proposition 103, approved by voters in 1988, it's not legal in the Golden State. Though the add-on programs offer forgiveness, there's a lot of fine print, and they cost more. California outlawed them. This week district attorneys in Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside counties announced that Liberty Mutual has agreed to pay nearly $1 million after they alleged false advertising and unfair competition in a Riverside County civil complaint.
If you watch such ads, they often say, "Not available in all states." The Liberty Mutual spots state, "Accident forgiveness not available in CA." However, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office says the "small type" disclaimer "was on the screen for no more than three to four seconds," according to a statement.
"These ads could convey an overall impression that California consumers would receive this benefit as part of Liberty Mutual car insurance," the Riverside County District Attorney's Office said in a statement of its own.
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Prosecutors, citing Liberty Mutual's own data, said the ads could have been seen in as many as 80 percent of California households since they started running in 2014. "California consumers rightfully expect clear and accurate advertising about what is and is not contained in the automobile insurance policies offered to them," said District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
Under the deal, the Boston-based company does not admit fault, but it has promised full compliance with the law, "including the disclosure of the fact that such programs are not available in California," according to Lacey's office.
Liberty Mutual spokesman Glenn Greenberg told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that the company doesn't believe it misled Californians. "We certainly disagreed with the allegations and the outcome, but we accept the penalties and are pleased that the matter is resolved and behind us," she said.
The $925,000 will be split three ways among the counties.