BALTIMORE, OCT. 30 -- A broad-based coalition of Maryland insurance, business and civic organizations today proposed lowering auto insurance rates at least 20 percent by offering optional no-frills, no-fault coverage to the state's 3 million drivers.

The proposal, which would require amending state law, met instant opposition from trial lawyers and doctors. They said it will ultimately force good drivers to subsidize the insurance premiums of poor drivers.

The proposal, pushed by the newly created Citizen Choice Coalition, would provide car owners with an alternative:

They could remain in the present insurance system where, after determining fault in an accident, they can sue for recovery of medical costs as well as more expensive "pain and suffering."

Or, they could opt for a minimum guaranteed payment of $20,000 to cover claims for medical bills and wage losses from their own insurance company without litigation, regardless of fault in the accident. Drivers, however, could not sue for pain and suffering, except when the other driver was drunk, drugged or intentionally using the car to harm other people.

Coalition leaders said at a news conference the proposal is similar to an optional no-fault program in New Jersey. Most states provide no such choice. They either have a no-fault system or require liability coverage that allows drivers to sue. Virginia and the District of Columbia allow drivers to sue.

Riding the crest of a recent national Gallup poll showing motorist frustration with multimillion-dollar lawsuits and escalating insurance rates, leaders of the coalition here urged no-fault as an alternative to expensive litigation.

"We support choice," said August Alegi, a vice president of Geico Corp., a leading insurance company in the coalition. "If you think suing people is America's favorite indoor sport, that's fine. Then stay with liability insurance."

Alegi joined officials from Allstate Insurance Cos., Nationwide Insurance Cos. and State Farm Insurance Cos., as well as the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, in claiming their unusual coalition should be effective next year in pushing the no-fault option through the state legislature. Various versions of it have failed in the past. The coalition includes several auto dealers and local civic and neighborhood improvement organizations.

Under the no-fault proposal, injured motorists would be paid automatically within 30 days for medical and wage-loss claims. Insurance companies failing to pay on time would be subject to a 15 percent interest penalty.

Drivers opting for no-fault could purchase a minimum $20,000 medical injury benefit, whose premium would be pegged 20 percent below current state liability coverage rates. Drivers could purchase more coverage up to $100,000 for higher premiums.

John Schochor, president of the 1,500-member Maryland Trial Lawyers Association, branded the proposal as "dumb" and the coalition as a "propaganda machine" of the insurance industry.

"We absolutely will be fighting it," he said. Many lawyers in Schochor's association represent motorists in seeking judgments against insurance companies in accident cases. By reducing litigation through no-fault, Schochor said, "the insurance companies will increase their profits and decrease {motorists'} benefits."

Drunk and reckless drivers, he said, will opt for the cheapest no-fault coverage, making them immune to lawsuits and ultimately forcing up premium costs for good drivers. While the proposal would allow motorists to sue drunk drivers, he said, most drunk drivers go unprosecuted in accidents and without a court conviction, it is almost impossible to prove the driver was drunk.

Gerard E. Evans, counsel to the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, the state's principal medical association, said the 8,000-member organization opposes the proposal because it limits doctors' fees in no-fault accident cases to Workers Compensation Commission levels, which often are below prevailing rates.