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NASAKA v. DATA ACCESS SYS.

February 14, 1985

NICHOLAS NASAKA, Plaintiff
v.
DATA ACCESS SYSTEMS, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOGAN

 At issue before the Court is a novel claim requiring an interpretation of the District of Columbia Compulsory/No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act of 1982 ("D.C. No-Fault Law"), D.C. Law 4-155, D.C. Code § 35-2101, et seq. (1984 Supp.) Plaintiff claims that his status as a taxicab driver renders him exempt from the provisions of the D.C. No-Fault Law. Thus, plaintiff argues, he may proceed with this diversity action despite the No-Fault Law's limits on civil liability actions, which would otherwise bar his claims.

 In brief, the complaint alleges that Mr. Nasaka, a cab driver, was injured when his vehicle was struck by the defendant's vehicle. Plaintiff further alleges that the sole cause of the collision was the negligence of the defendants.

 In an ordinary situation, the plaintiff would seek recovery for his economic loss *fn1" under the provisions of the No-Fault Law. Under the terms of the law, compensation would be provided to Mr. Nasaka by the applicable insurer for his medical expenses and lost wages regardless of negligence or fault. D.C. Code § 35-2104. However, Mr. Nasaka could not recover in a civil liability action for non-economic loss, see D.C. Code § 35-2102(19), unless he fell within one of the limited exceptions set forth in Section 7 of the Act, D.C. Code § 35-2105.

 The plaintiff argues that the above procedures and limitations are rendered inapplicable by Section 12(e) of the Act which provides:

 
The Mayor shall exempt . . . taxicabs from the provisions of this chapter (except the provisions of § 35-2109) unless the Mayor finds that such action is not necessary to preserve the economic strength of the taxicab industry.

 D.C. Code § 35-2111(e). The Mayor has entered the order setting the statutory exemption into effect. Mayor's Order No. 82-223 (Dec. 30, 1982). Thus, according to plaintiff, he is "exempt" from the no-fault law and may file this suit despite the otherwise preclusive effect of Section 7. In order to evaluate the validity of this argument, the Court must look to the language, background and purpose of the D.C. No-Fault Law.

 The No-Fault Law

 The stated purpose of the D.C. No-Fault Law is "to provide adequate protection for victims [of automobile accidents] who are injured in the District. . . ." The law attempts to achieve this purpose by providing "quick and adequate" compensation through mandatory automobile insurance, while minimizing time and expense by (virtually) eliminating common law tort claims. Thus, the D.C. No-Fault statute can, in essence, be broken down into its two concurrent and complementary elements.

 First, the Act requires that insurance with a certain level of benefits, D.C. Code § 35-2104, must be obtained for every motor vehicle registered in the District. D.C. Code § 35-2103. The Act is deemed to be "no-fault" in the sense that the insurance will pay for any compensable loss regardless of negligence or fault. See D.C. Code § 35-2104(b). The Act also sets out a schedule of priorities to determine which insurer is liable to pay benefits to the victim of an automobile accident. D.C. Code § 35-2107.

 Second, the Act has the effect of eliminating most civil claims for damages based on tort liability. D.C. Code § 35-2105. In theory, such claims are unnecessary -- and inefficient -- in light of the comprehensive coverage for economic loss provided under the Act. Pared to its essentials, the D.C. No-Fault Act, like those of other states, offers a trade-off between its two major components: accident victims give up the right to sue in exchange for certain, but limited, *fn2" compensation. See 4 R. Long, The Law of Liability Insurance § 27.01 (1981).

 Plaintiff looks at the plain language of the statute and argues that because taxicabs are "exempt" from the "provisions of the act," he is not only exempt from the mandatory insurance requirement but also from the section eliminating his common law right to sue. Defendant suggests a more subtle analysis.

 First, defendant suggests that even under plaintiff's "plain language" argument it is taxicabs -- not cab drivers -- who are "exempt" from the act. The difference is not merely semantic. Defendant points out that the mandatory insurance provision refers to "motor vehicle insurance," D.C. Code § 35-2103, and that the insurance requirement is enforced by requiring as a prerequisite to registration that "the insurance required by this chapter is in effect with respect to that motor vehicle." D.C. Code § 35-2103(d)(1)(A). The language of the statute limiting civil actions for damages, on the other hand, refers to "persons." Thus in the lexicon of the no-fault statute, "motor vehicles" -- such as taxicabs -- carry insurance, but persons are precluded from filing civil claims. This distinction is consistent with defendant's assertion that the "taxicab" exemption refers only to the mandatory insurance requirement and not to the limitation on civil liability.

 Second, the legislative history also supports this reading of the exemption. As defendant points out, the District of Columbia City Council Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, which reported favorably on the No-Fault Act, stated in its report to the Council that the taxicab exemption "is based on the fact that taxicabs are already required to carry liability insurance as a condition of doing business in the District." See Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 2. Furthermore, the bulk of the testimony at the public hearing focused on whether the cost of no-fault ...


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