If seven members of the D.C. Council who voted against a no-fault auto insurance bill don't think better of it when the matter comes up again tomorrow, Washington's motorists can expect a financial jolt. The alternative that did pass on initial consideration earlier this month would result in much higher insurance bills, more fees for certain lawyers and no prospects of better coverage or compensation for accident victims. A no-fault measure remains the best approach, and one more vote for such a bill is all it would take to improve coverage for everyone at reasonable rates.
At first glance, the compulsory liability insurance bill that won initial approval may seem good--because nearly everyone today recognizes the necessity of requiring all drivers to carry auto insurance. But merely requiring everyone to buy some form of the current sue-or-settle insurance will force up the costs of all coverage dramatically to meet higher system.
There is still hope for D.C. motorists, though, if council members who have no special ties with the trial lawyers' lobby can help fashion a no-fault bill into law. One such member is Nadine Winter, who has supported the no-fault concept in the past but who had some reservations about the no-fault bill that failed by one vote on May 11. Mrs. Winter seeks to improve some of the benefits that would be payable under the measure to provide victims with greater compensation for wages lost or funeral costs.
But she also has sought to include authority for lawsuits instead of automatic payments in too many routine cases. All no-fault systems allow for litigation in serious, high-damage cases--such as accidents that result in scarring, disfigurement, death or permanent inability to work or perform customary activities--and so would the measure that was supported by council members Dixon, Clarke, Kane, Mason, Crawford and Shackleton. Listing these instances, rather than allowing all sorts of suits for damages above some low dollar amount, would provide the necessary protection.
If Mrs. Winter can fashion a compromise that would add the benefits she seeks and drop the dollar "threshhold" for litigation, there is a chance to turn back an expensive liability proposition and substitute a no-fault formula for swift, fair and affordable coverage against all damages.