Marion Barry -- who tried for about two years to gut a no-fault auto insurance protection bill that finally was enacted -- is back, in league with the trial lawyers, for an attempt to wreck the law. Disregarding the improved coverage and compensation for accident victims provided by the no-fault concept, Mr. Barry seeks to reinstate the old system of auto insurance: suits, countersuits, haggling and settling for slow and all- too-often unfair compensation. Will members of the council succumb and do in one of their best pieces of work in years?
Not if they listen to numerous local and national organizations of the elderly, business and labor, and to individuals who are sick of questionable lawsuits, excessive lawyer fees and long delays. And not if, unlike Mr. Barry, the council members have the patience to await the results of a court test of the law that is currently under way (not to mention a pending study of the city's law that was part of the local legislation in the first place).
But watch for another considerable factor in all these gyrations: a small group of trial lawyers with a large budget for lobbying and for campaign contributions. This minority has a big stake in the unnecessary lawsuits and other legal hurdles that eat up much of every insurance premium. The question will be who else besides Mr. Barry prefers to keep these lawyers content, instead of continuing to offer accident victims a chance at better coverage.
Mr. Barry and those lawyer-lobbyists would have you believe that the failure of premiums to decrease in cost is the fault of no-fault. The issue is what your premium dollar buys in fair, full and efficient coverage instead of in lawyers' fees. Under Mr. Barry's proposal for dual fault/no-fault insurance systems, you would have the most expensive of both worlds.
If the past is any indication, look for still other smoke screens from the trial-lawyer lobby, including a misleading claim to the effect that people are somehow better off letting auto insurance lawyers move in on behalf of "the right to sue." A more valuable right in this context is the right to quick and fair compensation within a set deadline.
Council members who have the interests of motorists and would-be accident victims at heart can save everyone much time, trouble and grief by rejecting Mr. Barry's curiously hurried proposal.