The no-fault auto insurance bill crashed to defeat yesterday as the House Commerce Committee voted 22 to 19 to kill it.
The vote ends any hope of the measure being passed by this Congress, the fourth time in four congresses this has happened.
Rep. Bob Eckhardt (D-Tex.) and Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.), the principal House and Senate sponsors, vowed yesterday to bring up the measure next year.
Eckhardt blamed yesterday's defeat primarily on the American Trial Lawyers Association, which has opposed the bill on grounds that it would limit an injured person's right to sue for damages in some accidents. The association is composed of lawyers who bring personal-injury suits in behalf of accident victims.
The crucial vote came on an Eckhardt motion to send the bill to the House floor. Thirteen Republicans and nine Democrats, including Barbara Milkulski (D-Md.), opposed reporting the bill. Eighteen Democrats and one Republican, Matthew J. Rinaldo (N.J.), voted for the bill.
Under the no-fault bill, a driver suffering injury in a crash would be paid up to $100,000 for medical expenses and $12,000 for loss of salary by his or her own insurance company, regardless of who was at fault in the accident, and wouldn't have to sue the other party to collect The driver or his survivors could sue the other party only for losses in excess of the no-fault limits, or if he were killed, permanently disfigured, crippled or disabled for at least 180 days. The bill would have required every state to install such a system within three years or have the federal government set one up.
A coalition of labor and consumer organizations, the Committee for Consumers No-Fault, backed the bill, as did insurance firms such as State Farm, Aetna, Prudential and Kemper, while the trial laywers group and some other insurance firms such as Allstate opposed it.
ATLA attorney Tom Boggs said after the vote yesterday, "We're happy. The committee made a wise decision."
ATLA maintains an active voluntary political campaign fund that has made substantial contributions in recent years to many members of Congress, including many no-fault opponents as well as some supporters.
In 1972 the Senate killed the first version of no-fault, 49 to 46. In 1974 a bill passed the Senate, 53 to 42, but never cleared the House Commerce Committee. In 1976 it again was defeated in the Senate, 49 to 45.On May 9 the Senate Commerce Committee approved it. 9 to 7, but since the House committed killed it yesterday it won't come to the Senate floor this year.
Kathleen O'Reilly of the Consumer Federation of America said some Democrats whose votes CFA had hoped to get for the bill "have clearly caved in" to ATLA pressure. She said, "We've very distressed" the Democratic Reps. Paul g. Rogers (Fla.) Doug Walgren (Pa.), Robert A. Gammage (Tex.) and John D. Dingell (Mich.), all of whom opposed the bill yesterday.