Opponents of no-fault auto insurance in the District of Columbia have launched a barrage of radio and television advertisements attacking no-fault and the D.C. Council and have scheduled a major rally Monday, the day before the council is to take a final vote on a no-fault bill.
The $38,000 campaign is being paid for by the Association of Plaintiff Trial Attorneys, which has been the leading opponent of no-fault. It includes two radio spots that are scheduled to be broadcast 140 times on six stations before Monday night and two television commercials that will be shown 75 times on three stations.
Staffs of the D.C. Council members reported yesterday that they had received a surge in calls since the campaign began Wednesday, with some receiving as many as 100 calls.
The TV ads feature R. Kenneth Mundy, a well-known trial lawyer, who at one point terms the measure "a bill that takes away our civil rights. No-fault does that and gives insurance companies like Geico more power over you than the IRS and the Justice Department."
"We just want the council to be responsive to certain questions--the cost factor and why people won't have access to the courts any longer," said Donald J. Chaikin, president of the trial lawyers group.
The latest bill, approved June 8, would require the owners of all 250,000 vehicles registered in the city to carry a form of no-fault insurance that would pay personal injury claims up to $100,000 without determining which driver was at fault in the accident.
Property damages would still be settled through the current liability system, which uses court suits to determine which driver is responsible for those costs. Under the no-fault proposal, parties also would be able to sue for nonmedical pain and suffering damages if the medical bills exceeded $5,000 or if the accident resulted in permanent injury or death.
Opponents of the measure hope to persuade the council to delay final action on the bill for up to 90 days to permit a commission to study the costs of various insurance proposals.
The trial lawyers, many of whom will lose business if the no-fault legislation is approved, contend no-fault insurance is too costly for consumers and unfairly curbs the right to sue for damages.
They also argue that the major beneficiary of the bill would be insurance companies, whose costs would be reduced while auto insurance premiums would remain high.
A month ago, the Government Employees Insurance Co. (Geico), mailed out more than 200,000 letters opposing a compulsory insurance plan, supported by the trial lawyers, to which the council had given preliminary approval.
In the face of that unprecedented lobbying effort, the council reversed itself and approved a no fault-bill that was amended two weeks ago and is up for final approval Tuesday.
The lawyers' rally is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Monday outside the District Building at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Bright yellow fliers advertising the rally and paid for by the lawyers, list as primary sponsors the Baptist Ministers Conference of Washington and Vicinity and the Washington NAACP. Leaders of those groups joined representatives of the trial lawyers at a press conference yesterday in the District Building.
"The most critical problem with no-fault insurance is the almost total abolition of our access to the court and the associated right to sue," said Edward A. Hailes Sr., president of the NAACP.
The Rev. Carey E. Pointer Sr., president of the ministers group, contended that no-fault would result in high insurance premiums that poor people could not afford. He said it would be "so oppressive that people will either be forced to drive without insurance or forfeit driving privileges."