THIS EVENING, Washingtonians will find out which D.C. Council members are serious about making the city's streets safer and providing auto accident victims with swift, fair insurance compensation. Those members who do worry that roughly half of the city's motorists are cruising around town without any insurance will vote with chairman Arrington Dixon and member Betty Ann Kane for a genuine no-fault insurance bill. It would make auto insurance mandatory and end the costly process of suits, countersuits, haggling and settling that lines the pockets of a few trial attorneys before compensating the injured.
This is the proposal that nine members of the council supported last summer. But thanks to a long stall by council member Wilhelmina Rolark and a campaign by the trial lawyers' lobby of political contributors, some of the nine may vote for a bill that would protect a few insurance lawyers better than it would the premium-payers. This proposal, advanced by Mrs. Rolark, would neither require insurance nor reduce the number of unnecessary court cases; its main purpose is to preserve the "right to sue" instead of protecting the right of accident victims to prompt compensation.
As presented, this half-baked bill wouldn't even require insurance. It would simply charge uninsured motorists a $250 penalty--and lots of luck to anybody who is hit. Word has it that this ridiculous provision may be dropped, but the measure still wouldn't establish a no-fault compensation system.
Council members who are leaning toward the trial lawyers' lobby make the argument that a no-fault system would be tough on black lawyers who specialize in personal injury claims. According to this twisted logic, motorists, regardless of race, should keep on paying for an unnecessary plan to keep a small number of lawyers in business. How many residents will fall for that one?
Another excuse made for backing away from no- fault is that it doesn't include property damage. But neither does the current messy system. Once the Dixon no-fault bill is enacted and proven to work better than the old-fashioned sue-or-settle arrangement, perhaps no-fault property insurance could be considered. Meanwhile, the Dixon bill is urgent business.