CLT Update
Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Seat Belt Law:
Insurers proclaim true motivation

With a primary-enforcement seat-belt law on the books, insurance company lawyers could argue that victims who weren't buckled up were guilty of "contributory negligence," [Richard Underwood, a lobbyist for Commerce Insurance] said.

"Your recovery (of money) can be reduced to the extent that you're at fault," he said.

The Boston Herald
Jun. 13, 2001
Seat belt bill back in line: Law would aid speaker's firm

We told you so!

"Contributory negligence" has always been the end-game for the insurance lobby in the mandatory seat belt law issue; that and, in Massachusetts, the "insurance surcharge."

I recognized this back in 1986, during the first MSBL repeal campaign: it had been happening in courts around the country in states that had adopted the law.

Which was precisely why I proposed "The Buckle-Up Bonus." It actually inspired our current Voluntary Tax Check-Off: Win, then offer the opposition back what they professed to want all along; graciously provide the opportunity for everyone to be a winner; solve their problem a better way; if nothing else, call their bluff and test their sincerity.

The Buckle-Up Bonus gave them back everything they claimed to want when they opposed our repeal of the MSBL, but without the use of state force to achieve it.

The Buckle-Up Bonus was simple, yet difficult to attain. Not everyone would have even qualified -- even if they wore a seat belt all the time. One would only have qualified after having demonstrably saved the insurance industry money [see excerpts from 1987 news reports of the bill's hearing, below].

How could the insurance lobby have unanimously and so vehemently opposed it when receiving the discount required:

1) That a motorist first be involved in an accident;

2) That the motorist and all passengers be found to have been using their seat belts, and;

3) That insurance premium discounts would only then apply to future premium costs?

It was never about saving money for us insured; it was always about profiting the insurance industry. They proved it for us back then, and they proved if for us again today.

Chip Ford

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Seat belt bill back in line: Law would aid speaker's firm
by Ellen J. Silberman

A primary-enforcement seat-belt law -- waiting for a new chance at passage in the state Legislature -- would be a boon to leading auto insurers represented by House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's law firm.

While current law mandates use of seat belts, it does not permit police to stop motorists on suspicion of non-compliance as the controversial new one would.

The new measure was defeated on a tie vote two weeks ago. Finneran had scheduled the measure for "reconsideration" -- a parliamentary maneuver allowing its revival -- today, but he abruptly canceled the entire House session late yesterday citing the "unanticipated commitments" of some House members.

Supporters say a so-called primary enforcement law would save lives by getting more people to use seat belts. Massachusetts has one of the worst seat belt use rates in the nation. But insurance company advocates also admit it would save auto insurers money by allowing them to shift the blame for injuries onto the victims.

"It's going to affect what they pay out in claims," said Richard Underwood, a lobbyist for Commerce Insurance.

Commerce Insurance is one of several auto insurers represented by Finneran's firm, Finneran, Byrne and Drechsler, which lists insurance defense work among its specialties.

With a primary-enforcement seat-belt law on the books, insurance company lawyers could argue that victims who weren't buckled up were guilty of "contributory negligence," Underwood said.

"Your recovery (of money) can be reduced to the extent that you're at fault," he said.

Although Finneran founded the Dorchester law firm, he currently has an arms-length "of counsel" arrangement with it.

"I draw no income from the firm's representation of those (insurance) interests," Finneran said. "There's absolutely no conflict whatsoever." Finneran also said he's kept his hands off the seat belt debate.

"I obviously haven't been twisting any arms," he said, citing the unusual tie and the fact that several of his hand-picked chairman voted against the bill. "Every member has to make up his or her own mind."

But opponents, who see the bill as an unconstitutional expansion of police powers, accuse Finneran of trying to schedule the revote for a day he can win.

"If (the issue) was (being dictated) by everybody's conscience, we would have had the reconsideration vote that same day (the measure failed)," said Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston), who believes a primary-enforcement seat-belt law will give police one more reason to stop black motorists. "He's certainly giving an opportunity for people who weren't there to vote."

House Ways and Means Chairman John H. Rogers (D-Norwood), a key Finneran ally, was one of a handful of members who missed the original vote. Rogers, who missed the vote to attend his daughter's birth, had scheduled a committee meeting for this morning, which was also canceled abruptly.

The Buckle-Up Bonus

The Patriot Ledger
Thursday, March 19, 1987

'Buckle-up bonus' proposed for people using seat belts
By John Diamond
State House Bureau

BOSTON -- A leader of the successful fight to repeal the seat belt law has joined with his former adversaries to push for insurance breaks for drivers who buckle up.

Chip Ford of Freedom First said the proposal, which he calls the "buckle-up bonus," would reverse the decline in the use of seat belts that followed repeal of the last Nov 4.

"This will still the complaints of those who regularly use seat belts and feel it unfair that they pay the same insurance premiums as those who don't," Ford said.

"The stick approach was tried and failed," said Ford. "I hope the committee will see the benefit of this proposal and will provide for the carrot approach." ...

Ford's comments indicate how the debate over incentives has reshuffled alliances on the seat belt issue. Insurance companies that had supported the seat belt law now oppose any financial incentives for wearing seat belts....

But insurance companies yesterday said they want no part of seat belt incentive programs. "Discounts here, discounts there, everybody wants a discount," said Thomas Whelton of the Alliance of American Insurers....

The Sun
(Lowell, Mass.)
Thursday, March 19, 1987

Commissioner, insurers urge defeat of 'seat belt discount'
By Kevin Landrigan
State House Bureau

STATE HOUSE -- Insurance Commissioner Peter Hiam and industry lobbyists yesterday urged defeat of legislation that would offer "price discounts" to motorists for wearing seat belts.

On the other side, however, were the two groups which battled over repeal of the seat belt law last November.

"This bill has some strange allies, doesn't it?" remarked Chip Ford, chairman of the "Freedom First" group which convinced voters to defeat the seat belt law....

Inta Hall, vice president of the Massachusetts Seat Belt Coalition, agreed with Ford that the bonus program would help save lives.

"The time has come for the insurance industry to assist in managing the risks which, if left unattended, cost insurance companies far more in the long run," Hall said.

"My proposal is simple: Offer a financial incentive to the motorists of Massachusetts to use their seat belts. It is said that,'It is easier to pull a rope than to push it,'" Ford said....

Industry officials opposing the seat belt discount included Thomas Whelton of the Alliance of American Insurers, Frank Mancini of the Independent Insurance Agents of New England and Joseph A DiGiovanni Jr. of the American Insurance Assn.

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