TIME FOR A traffic alert: if anyone resents the fact that the District of Columbia's streets are filled with uninsured motorists--or that those who do buy insurance have to pay high prices for unnecessary lawyer fees instead of for better protection and compensation for accident victims--keep a close eye on the D.C. Council over the next few months. The insurance-lawyer lobby and its pet council members are counting on apathy, shaky thinking and weak leadership in city hall to kill the city's no-fault before it can even take effect.
Those who are trying the kill the law are still giving lip service to "mandatory insurance," but they would hold off for years so that yet another "study" --spelled s-t-a-l-l--could help keep things the messy way they are. Otherwise, the no-fault protection law is scheduled to take effect in October, and there go some fat fees for lawyers who prefer long and costly litigation to automatic, prompt compensation for victims in routine cases.
Their latest scare talk includes a claim by one lawyer-witness at a council hearing that the no-fault law will "provoke the biggest run on doctors' offices in our history as accident victims do everything in their power to meet the $5,000 medical expense threshold" that would permit them to file "pain and suffering" lawsuits. Now who has the most interest in egging on accident victims and leading a charge like that--which assumes all sorts of doctors ready and willing to ring their cash registers for the cause?
This same lawyer-witness also suggested that some supporters of no-fault, including an insurance company and this newspaper, favor the law because they might "save a bundle of money" on premiums. So might anybody--and better coverage with fewer legal fees is precisely what no-fault is all about. Consumer groups, organizations of the elderly, labor unions, business organizations, insurance companies and a coalition of civic organizations know that. The danger is that they may become weary, and that the council will weaken and find some flimsy excuse for a vote to repeal.
Mayor Barry is on record as saying he would veto a repeal. If it comes to that, motorists and anybody else who may ever be a traffic accident victim in this city had better hold him to his word.