IT HAS BEEN CLEAR for some years now that a growing number of Americans want Congress to do something about the nation's automobile insurance mess - the "fault" system that yields fat fees for trial lawyers and inadequate coverage for customers and accident victims. Yet each year, trial lawyers and certain members of Congress who have received generous financial help from the trail lawyers' lobby argue for more "studies". And whenever a study does roll in supporting no-fault, the opponents call for still another one.
This year, they're trying to counter a new independent study in support of no-fault with a report of their own, issued through the American Bar Association. Their "study", from a committee dominated by trial lawyers, calls for - you guessed it - new studies, in 24 states. It also makes an absurd suggestion that no-fault systems might lead to more accidents since people could collect damages more easily. The report goes on to cite the number of claims being filed - not the number of accidents. As nearly everyone knows, accident rates are determined by such things as highway and auto-safety requirements, the availability of fuel and speed limits - not by drivers who decide to be reckless because their deaths or injuries will be paid for.
At any rate, we've seen nothing to indicate that the wait-and-sue system deters accidents. Indeed, it's a wonder the ABA allowed its good name to go out on such flimsy, self-serving material from a tiny minority of its membership. Far more interesting, if one insists on new studies, are two others just in. The independent study we mentioned was completed for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at the suggestion Of Sen. John Durkin (D-N.H.), himself a former insurance commissioner. It concludes that no-fault systems in MIchigan and Colorado have caused no surge in accident claims, nor have there been any unusual increases in consumer costs. Costs have risen at about the same rate as the general rate of inflation.
Another report, issued yesterday by the Insurance Bureau of the State of Michigan, says the no-fault law there is working well. Amounts paid to victims have been 65 percent higher than under the previous system, while lawsuits have dropped 31 percent and rates have gone up less than the national average.
So it's not an issue of cost, but of coverage - what protection you get for your money, rather what you and insurance companies have to pay for trial lawyers. And there have been enough studies. Legislation establishing sensible minimum standards for no-fault insurance systems - based on years of research and expertise - is pending before House and Senate committees. Sensitive members who recognize their constituents' disgust with the present insurance mess should work for enactment of a bill this year - before the summer recess.