PERSPECTIVE ON PROPOSITION 200 : Only Lawyers Lose on No-Fault : The plan would curtail much litigation, cut most of the fraud and end the uninsured motorist subsidy.

Andrew Tobias is one of the authors of Propositions 200, 201 and 202. In 1993, he won the Consumer Federation of America Media Service Award

Arthur Durone, an underwater demolition specialist, was riding his bike when he was hit by a car driven by an uninsured motorist. He flew over the top of the car as it sped off. The driver was not charged with leaving the scene because Durone's hand had caught in her luggage rack. He was dragged half a mile until the engine, damaged by the impact, conked out. Amazingly, he lived.

Under today's auto insurance system, he got nothing beyond the uninsured motorist coverage he had purchased. His medical bills and disability cost him his savings and house.

Under Proposition 200's standard policy, he would have had all his medical and rehabilitation covered, plus $30,000 a year of lost wages, up to a combined limit of $1 million, and up to $250,000 more for pain and suffering. All that for less than the cost of the legal minimum coverage today.

Californians are justifiably enraged. Uninsured motorists can sue you, but you can't sue them. A few uninsured motorists even cause accidents on purpose, knowing there's good money in it for them if they contrive to get rear-ended by a Mercedes. Who pays for that? We all do, in higher insurance rates.

Proposition 200 would change this.

* It removes the lawyers. Under Proposition 200, you could no longer be sued (unless convicted of driving drunk and causing the accident) and you would no longer need to sue to be compensated. Today, more auto insurance dollars go to lawyers than to medical care. Under this proposition, most of that $2.5 billion a year would be saved. And under the provisions of Proposition 103, those savings would be passed on to consumers.

* It removes most of the fraud. Michigan is the only so-called no-fault state in the country that comes close to Proposition 200. In Michigan, there are seven unverifiable "soft" injuries reported for every 10 verifiable "hard" injuries like a broken bone. In California, people claim 25 unverifiable soft injuries for every 10 hard injuries. Out of the 25 soft injuries, experts believe 18 are bogus, but insurers can't tell which are which. This pumps up the cost of auto insurance by another $2 billion to $3 billion a year. Proposition 200 would remove the incentive to falsify claims.

* It ends the uninsured motorist subsidy. Under Proposition 200, your protection wouldn't depend on the insurance limits of the person who hit you. You'd buy insurance to cover yourself and collect benefits from your own company, which you could sue for bad faith if it failed to treat you right.

Another $1 billion a year could be saved by cutting out the uninsured motorist subsidy. And slashing the cost of auto insurance will put it within reach of millions of low-income people.

The trial lawyers' TV ads against Proposition 200 claim it would raise rates by 40%. Rand Corp. and others say your rates will fall dramatically. Whom should you believe--the personal injury lawyers, who stand to lose $2 billion a year if Proposition 200 passes, or Rand's Institute for Civil Justice, on whose board sits the executive director of the Consumer Federation of America? It's common sense: Removing lawsuits, fraud and the uninsured motorist subsidy will lower, not raise, the cost.

But more important than cost is what happens if you're hurt. Now, you get nothing if the driver who hit you fled the scene, nothing if you can't prove that the other driver was at fault (not all accidents are someone else's fault), nothing if the other driver was uninsured (28% of California drivers but up to 50% of the accident-causers), nothing if there was no other driver (16% of auto injuries involve only one car).

If you're "lucky" and can prove fault, and the other driver is insured, there's still about a 50% chance he has only $15,000 to $25,000 of coverage. Only about 6% of California drivers who buy insurance carry limits above $100,000.

What good is the right to sue for $20 million if the other driver has only $376 in the bank? For every example of someone hit by a wealthy driver and recovering millions, there are countless people being hit by ordinary drivers and recovering nothing, or next-to-nothing and then having to split it with their lawyers.

So why has Ralph Nader joined the trial lawyers in fighting reform? Because for decades, his work has been supported by them. "Nader supports all our issues and we support his," mega-lawyer Bob Gibbons told Forbes magazine a few years ago. "We are what supports Ralph Nader," said another, Fred Levin. "We have supported him for decades," said Pat Maloney, a third. "We support him overtly, covertly, every way possible."

The trial lawyers' TV ads make it look as if they're trying to protect you from Proposition 200. What they're really trying to protect is the $2 billion a year they make from auto insurance.

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