PERHAPS YOU remember--even though D.C. Council members would rather you didn't-- that seven months ago, nine of them sponsored a sensible bill to get uninsured motorists off the city's streets and to get lawyers' fees out of city residents' auto insurance premiums. But thanks to a long stall by council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark and some slick footwork by the trial lawyers' lobby, all but one of the bills' sponsors have backed off any serious attempt to pass a genuine no-fault bill.
Instead, Mrs. Rolark is pushing a proposal that would neither require insurance nor reduce the number of unnecessary court cases that accident victims and insurance companies are dragged into under the current system. Her substitute, drawn up with more than a little help from her friends in the Association of Plaintiffs' Trial Attorneys of Washington, D.C., would set up a pool made up of penalty fees from uninsured drivers, with the money administered by the mayor to spend as he sees fit.
Under a no-fault system, accident victims get swift and fair compensation automatically--coverage is the word--instead of long hassles in which lawyers sue, countersue, haggle, settle and then let the compensation chips fall where they may. But to hear it from the lawyers, the "right to sue" is so sacred that it should always upstage the right of accident victims to swift compensation.
Besides, the present insurance mess is a golden egg for lawyers. Clinton W. Chapman, president of the plaintiff trial attorneys' group, charges that a no-fault system would be especially tough on many black lawyers in the District who have been kept out of the lucrative law practices of largely white firms and who depend on personal injury claims for a great deal of their business. So, according to this twisted logic, all the motorists in town should keep on paying for an unnecessary program to keep black lawyers in business.
If this argument--along with campaign contributions from the lobby--is what is causing certain council members to back away from their better judgment, District residents are paying a high price for poor legislative performance.