One year after it was adopted, the District of Columbia's controversial compulsory no-fault automobile insurance program appears to have achieved its main objectives, according to officials in government, industry and consumer groups.

They said the measure, which went into effect Oct. 1, 1983, seems to be succeeding in cutting down on legal red tape by allowing people to collect quickly and easily from their own insurers, rather than having to seek damages from the other party, often by going to court.

But private lawyers, who were principal opponents of the no-fault measure, complain that it has created new problems for consumers and predict the legislation eventually will be repealed.

Under the no-fault law, a person injured in an automobile accident in the District caused by another driver cannot file a liability claim unless his or her medical costs total $5,000 or more. Instead, the injured person with no-fault coverage turns to his or her own insurance company in order to collect benefits, which provide up to $100,000 for medical and rehabilitation expenses, $24,000 for work loss and $2,000 for funeral expenses.

Geico (Government Employees Insurance Co.), the city's largest insurer, reports that only about a third as many bodily injury liability claims -- which come from the other driver, not Geico's client -- are being filed with the company as before no-fault.

But the total amount of money the company is paying out, funds going to its own clients under no-fault as well as to those who file adversarial claims, has remained essentially the same -- an early indication that the law may be doing what it was supposed to do.

Geico received about 200 adversarial injury claims in the year that ended this Oct. 1, versus 604 such claims in the year that ended in June 1982, the last comparable period for which figures are available. But the total amount of money paid out to injured persons for each year amounts to about $3.5 million.

Nearly all D.C. registered car owners are in compliance with the no-fault law, which requires them to have insurance, the city says. Additionally, the vast majority of D.C. car owners appear to have been insured prior to the the mandatory insurance law.

A survey by the D.C. Department of Transportation found that 77.1 percent of registered D.C. car owners were insured July 1, 1983, three months before the law took effect, and 93.8 percent of owners had the required insurance as of Dec. 1, 1983, two months after no-fault became law.

The estimate given at the time by officials in industry and government that 100,000 D.C. car owners were uninsured was incorrect, they say now.

"It just didn't turn out that way," Geico vice president August Alegi said. "There were some uninsured drivers, but never 100,000 uninsured drivers."

Altogether, the District has about 300,000 registered car owners, according to Jim Nance, acting deputy chief of the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services. But that number can fluctuate by 50,000, because of the transient nature of the D.C. population, he said.

Nance said that 3,600 drivers have had their licenses suspended in the past year for failure to have the required car insurance. Of those cases, 72 have been referred to the corporation counsel for prosecution.

Those numbers suggest compliance with the law, just as insurance company payouts offer a sign that the law is working.

"It is too early to be sure, but we think the system has been a success -- that it is paying dollars out directly to people with lost wages, medical bills and so forth and that only a few small bodily injury liability claims are being filed," Alegi said.

But the officials all cautioned that the preliminary reading they have received on no-fault could change, because an injured party still has three years to file a liability claim before the statute of limitations runs out.

"We No-Fault Law Seen Working Insurance Plan Has Cut Red Tape By Molly Sinclair and Ed Bruske Washington Post Staff Writers

One year after it was adopted, the District of Columbia's controversial compulsory no-fault automobile insurance program appears to have achieved its main objectives, according to officials in government, industry and consumer groups.

They said the measure, which went into effect Oct. 1, 1983, seems to be succeeding in cutting down on legal red tape by allowing people to collect quickly and easily from their own insurers, rather than having to seek damages from the other party, often by going to court.

But private lawyers, who were principal opponents of the no-fault measure, complain that it has created new problems for consumers and predict the legislation eventually will be repealed.

Under the no-fault law, a person injured in an automobile accident in the District caused by another driver cannot file a liability claim unless his or her medical costs total $5,000 or more. Instead, the injured person with no-fault coverage turns to his or her own insurance company in order to collect benefits, which provide up to $100,000 for medical and rehabilitation expenses, $24,000 for work loss and $2,000 for funeral expenses.

Geico (Government Employees Insurance Co.), the city's largest insurer, reports that only about a third as many bodily injury liability claims -- which come from the other driver, not Geico's client -- are being filed with the company as before no-fault.

But the total amount of money the company is paying out, funds going to its own clients under no-fault as well as to those who file adversarial claims, has remained essentially the same -- an early indication that the law may be doing what it was supposed to do.

Geico received about 200 adversarial injury claims in the year that ended this Oct. 1, versus 604 such claims in the year that ended in June 1982, the last comparable period for which figures are available. But the total amount of money paid out to injured persons for each year amounts to about $3.5 million.

Nearly all D.C. registered car owners are in compliance with the no-fault law, which requires them to have insurance, the city says. Additionally, the vast majority of D.C. car owners appear to have been insured prior to the the mandatory insurance law.

A survey by the D.C. Department of Transportation found that 77.1 percent of registered D.C. car owners were insured July 1, 1983, three months before the law took effect, and 93.8 percent of owners had the required insurance as of Dec. 1, 1983, two months after no-fault became law.

The estimate given at the time by officials in industry and government that 100,000 D.C. car owners were uninsured was incorrect, they say now.

"It just didn't turn out that way," Geico vice president August Alegi said. "There were some uninsured drivers, but never 100,000 uninsured drivers."

Altogether, the District has about 300,000 registered car owners, according to Jim Nance, acting deputy chief of the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services. But that number can fluctuate by 50,000, because of the transient nature of the D.C. population, he said.

Nance said that 3,600 drivers have had their licenses suspended in the past year for failure to have the required car insurance. Of those cases, 72 have been referred to the corporation counsel for prosecution.

Those numbers suggest compliance with the law, just as insurance company payouts offer a sign that the law is working.

"It is too early to be sure, but we think the system has been a success -- that it is paying dollars out directly to people with lost wages, medical bills and so forth and that only a few small bodily injury liability claims are being filed," Alegi said.

But the officials all cautioned that the preliminary reading they have received on no-fault could change, because an injured party still has three years to file a liability claim before the statute of limitations runs out.

"We don't know what is sitting out there . . . who is piling up medical bills that could penetrate the $5,000 threshold to get into court and file a claim," Alegi said.

Attorneys active in personal liability law dispute the notion that the no-fault system appears to be succeeding by reducing the number of liability claims. Rather than drying up their business as predicted, they said, the law has caused many clients to come to them with new problems.

Some clients cannot get their insurance companies to pay medical benefits to which they are entitled, attorneys say.

The lawyers also say it is now harder to collect on damages to vehicles, an area not covered by the no-fault law. They say insurance companies formerly paid these damages promptly, to discourage injury claims, but now are without that incentive.

The lawyers further say that requirements that injured persons see doctors approved by the insurance companies gives the insurers more control over the kind of medical benefits the person receives.

And the lawyers question the city's figures on how many motorists are in fact insured, suspecting that many just made initial payments to insurers in order to obtain license plates and have since dropped the coverage.

The attorneys are awaiting the outcome of a suit filed in U.S. District Court here challenging the constitutionality of no-fault under a Supreme Court ruling that created doubts about the city's home rule authority.

"I could probably say that because of the inequities of no-fault, people come and see me about problems that wouldn't have come up without the law," said attorney Donald J. Chaikin, a past president of the D.C. Plaintiffs Trial Lawyers Association.

In some states with no-fault, unscrupulous doctors and lawyers have worked together to push a client's medical costs above the threshold so a claim against the other driver could be filed. But there has been no evidence of this happening here, officials said.

Among the government officials who believe that no-fault is working here is D.C. Insurance Administrator Margurite C. Stokes. But she also was careful to qualify her position.

"Things have been so quiet, it must be working," she said. "But it is too early to know for sure, because we don't have any claims data yet. So we aren't going to make any claim of terrible or wonderful until we have something to base it on."

Robert Hunter, president of the National Insurance Consumer Organization (NICO), a Washington-based, nonprofit public interest group, said no-fault was "off to a fairly good start, but it can be improved."

Compared to most no-fault programs, Hunter said, the D.C. plan is "fairly tough" in its requirement that an injured person have medical bills of at least $5,000 before he or she can go to court.

"That is better than a place like New Jersey, which has a threshold of only about $200, and where you end up with the cost of the no-fault system and the cost of the legal system," Hunter said. But he said the D.C. system is not as good as the one in Michigan, for example, which limits lawsuits to cases in which there is a death or a disfiguring injury.

Hunter said that Washington motorists have not gotten the price break on no-fault insurance that they were promised by insurance companies at the time no-fault was adopted by the D.C. City Council.

"They sold it on the basis that it would reduce prices, and Geico did drop rates by a couple of bucks," he said. "But I haven't seen any major change in rates. The public hasn't received a price cut."

Insurance officials said there had been no price reduction because their costs with no-fault have been about the same as with the old system. They even hinted there could be a rate increase in the not-too-distant future. don't know what is sitting out there . . . who is piling up medical bills that could penetrate the $5,000 threshold to get into court and file a claim," Alegi said.

Attorneys active in personal liability law dispute the notion that the no-fault system appears to be succeeding by reducing the number of liability claims. Rather than drying up their business as predicted, they said, the law has caused many clients to come to them with new problems.

Some clients cannot get their insurance companies to pay medical benefits to which they are entitled, attorneys say.

The lawyers also say it is now harder to collect on damages to vehicles, an area not covered by the no-fault law. They say insurance companies formerly paid these damages promptly, to discourage injury claims, but now are without that incentive.

The lawyers further say that requirements that injured persons see doctors approved by the insurance companies gives the insurers more control over the kind of medical benefits the person receives.

And the lawyers question the city's figures on how many motorists are in fact insured, suspecting that many just made initial payments to insurers in order to obtain license plates and have since dropped the coverage.

The attorneys are awaiting the outcome of a suit filed in U.S. District Court here challenging the constitutionality of no-fault under a Supreme Court ruling that created doubts about the city's home rule authority.

"I could probably say that because of the inequities of no-fault, people come and see me about problems that wouldn't have come up without the law," said attorney Donald J. Chaikin, a past president of the D.C. Plaintiffs Trial Lawyers Association.

In some states with no-fault, unscrupulous doctors and lawyers have worked together to push a client's medical costs above the threshold so a claim against the other driver could be filed. But there has been no evidence of this happening here, officials said.

Among the government officials who believe that no-fault is working here is D.C. Insurance Administrator Margurite C. Stokes. But she also was careful to qualify her position.

"Things have been so quiet, it must be working," she said. "But it is too early to know for sure, because we don't have any claims data yet. So we aren't going to make any claim of terrible or wonderful until we have something to base it on."

Robert Hunter, president of the National Insurance Consumer Organization (NICO), a Washington-based, nonprofit public interest group, said no-fault was "off to a fairly good start, but it can be improved."

Compared to most no-fault programs, Hunter said, the D.C. plan is "fairly tough" in its requirement that an injured person have medical bills of at least $5,000 before he or she can go to court.

"That is better than a place like New Jersey, which has a threshold of only about $200, and where you end up with the cost of the no-fault system and the cost of the legal system," Hunter said. But he said the D.C. system is not as good as the one in Michigan, for example, which limits lawsuits to cases in which there is a death or a disfiguring injury.

Hunter said that Washington motorists have not gotten the price break on no-fault insurance that they were promised by insurance companies at the time no-fault was adopted by the D.C. City Council.

"They sold it on the basis that it would reduce prices, and Geico did drop rates by a couple of bucks," he said. "But I haven't seen any major change in rates. The public hasn't received a price cut."

Insurance officials said there had been no price reduction because their costs with no-fault have been about the same as with the old system. They even hinted there could be a rate increase in the not-too-distant future.