County executives come out towards cap on Michigan&#39s no-fault catastrophic injury payouts

Nearly 19 months after being involved in a serious car accident, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said he’s still undergoing physical therapy 3 times a week to strengthen his legs to the point where he no longer has to use a wheelchair.

Fortunately for him, he said this morning, his continued care is covered by workers’ compensation insurance, since he was on duty the day of the accident. The crash also left his driver, James Cram of Owosso, paralyzed from the neck down.

Under changes proposed for the state’s no-fault insurance law, Patterson could have lost rehabilitation benefits more than 6 months ago, had his recovery been paid for through auto insurance.

“It’s hard to come out against reform,” Brooks Patterson said. “But in this instance, (the no-fault insurance law) is not broken.”

Patterson was joined by Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel to decry the changes being pitched by the Legislature. He made the announcement at Walk the Line to SCI (spinal cord injury) Recovery, a rehabilitation facility in Southfield that uses exercise to help accident victims as they work to recover from serious injuries.

The current law, among other things, allows for unlimited lifetime benefits for people catastrophically injured in car crashes, which are paid from a fund of assessments collected from drivers by the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Administration. Legislation, pushed by Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, would cap those benefits at $ 10 million. Rehabilitation would be limited to 52 weeks, with the option to seek an additional 52 weeks. They also require insurance companies to guarantee a 10% savings on auto insurance premiums the first 2 years.

Under the proposed changes, Ficano said, Wayne County would be on the hook for continued care payments, as the county is self-insured. He added that a number of issues need to be addressed about the state’s insurance law, including how many people living in urban areas and with lower credit scores are hit with higher premiums. Often, he said, people will purchase insurance to get a car off the dealership lot, then drop it at their earliest convenience. It leaves too many vulnerable when accidents do happen, he said.

“There are a number of issues to address across the board,” Ficano said. “We want real reform that helps people … not get around the law, but to engage in the law.”

Hackel said Legislators are missing the mark by making changes to auto insurance laws while continuing to neglect the state’s roads, recognized among the worst in the nation.

“We should be prioritizing road funding to help avoid accidents” that lead to serious injuries, he said.

State Rep Thomas Stalworth III, D-Detroit, said talks of issues with the stability of the MCCA fund have led to questions about the fund’s sustainability, which would be answered if there were more transparency involving the fund.

“If the issue is sustainability, open the books,” he said of the MCCA fund. “We need to be clear that the MCCA fund is at risk. Unwillingness to (make public its finances) suggests to me that the fund is not seeing a crisis.”

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