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WND Exclusive
Research says no-fault auto insurance
dramatically speeds recovery

By Julie Foster
© 2000

A report published by the New England Journal of Medicine shows recovery time from car crash injuries actually decreases in areas using "no-fault" insurance laws.

Generally, no-fault systems let policyholders recover benefits regardless of who is at fault for an accident and restrict the right to sue for pain and suffering.

Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada studied 7,462 whiplash claims for six months before and one year after Saskatchewan dropped its pain-and-suffering awards. Under the province's system, people could instead collect more money for medical costs and lost work, and lawsuits were still allowed if medical costs or lost wages exceeded the standard benefit.

The number of claims filed fell by 28 percent within six months, and the average time to settle claims plunged 54 percent.

In their report, researchers said the study supplies a strong medical argument for no-fault insurance.

Car crash victims were asked to fill out follow-up health questionnaires. Results showed that as people settled claims, they reported less neck pain, better functioning and fewer other symptoms. Patients requiring more than two days of hospitalization were excluded by the study, leaving only relatively minor injuries to be considered.

J. David Cassidy, an epidemiologist and lead author of the study, said no-fault takes away the financial incentive to delay recovery.

Thirteen U.S. states have adopted no-fault auto insurance laws -- the first of which was Massachusetts in 1971.

Officials in the U.S. insurance industry said the study, released Thursday, builds on other research with similar findings.

Peter Kinzler, president of the Coalition of Auto-Insurance Reform, in Alexandria, Va., said fault systems greatly inflate both outright fraud and conscious exaggeration of medical claims to levels as high as 40 percent.

"For small claims, everybody has the incentive to over-utilize the system: doctors, lawyers, claimants," said Kinzler, according to an Associated Press report.

Dr. Richard Deyo, who does cost-benefit analyses at the University of Washington, said there may be several reasons that people report fewer symptoms under no-fault.

He said some people fraudulently exaggerate whiplash when they can win pain and suffering awards. Others may not vocalize their injuries since there is no financial incentive to complain.

"Physicians often blame lawyers for unnecessary disability claims, citing contingency fees, 'ambulance chasing,' and exaggerated claims of pain and suffering," Deyo wrote in an editorial about the report. "Certainly, adversarial proceedings impair a patient's ability to recover; any improvement threatens the patient's credibility and financial well-being, because of legal fees and lost wages. It seems almost axiomatic that if you have to prove you are ill, you can't get well."

Edmonton personal injury lawyers reject the study, saying no-fault insurance systems only benefit irresponsible drivers.

"Fault is not relevant, so the driver who gets drunk, causes an accident and gets injured is going to receive compensation on the same basis as the innocent person who is injured." lawyer Mark McCourt told the Canadian Press.

High insurance premiums drove Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan to switch to no-fault systems.

Cassidy urged government officials in Alberta to employ no-fault insurance systems based on the study's findings. But insurance premiums are generally less expensive in Alberta, where competition encourages better rates.

The study, which took place between July 1, 1994, and Dec. 31, 1995, was paid for by Saskatchewan Government Insurance, the province's only car-insurance provider.

Julie Foster is a staff reporter for WorldNetDaily.

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