The awful ‘new normal’ of Michigan’s auto no-fault law

by | Sep 22, 2019 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 1 comment

This is every parent’s nightmare. Thanks to our state legislators, it’s now a reality for many of us.

Amora Harris is a beautiful 3-year-old girl, named after the Spanish word for “love.” This past July, on a Sunday morning, just after church, her parents took Amora with them to check on a Detroit rental property. Amora wore a gold and black tutu skirt and a Minnie Mouse shirt. It was a warm day. Her father, Donald Harris, walked across the street to say hello to a friend.

And, as little girls will do, Amora ran after him.

“It was the blink of an eye,” her mother Emmy Gillen, 38, recalls. A silver Chevy Impala was coming down Iroquois Street, she says, way too fast. Emmy screamed “Stop! Stop!” So did her husband.

But tragedy doesn’t take direction.

The car clipped Amora and sent her flying.

“It threw her in the air and she rolled. Oh my gosh, I try so hard not to think about it,” Emmy recalls, fighting emotion. “She was unconscious. There was blood. Blood was coming from her nose. Her lips were turning blue.”

She and Donald gathered Amora and raced her to the hospital. The driver, a male, had stopped briefly. Then, Emmy says, he drove away.

The parents were only concerned about their little girl. Doctors diagnosed her with multiple injuries to her head, neck, spine, wrist, hands, and leg. She required several surgeries.

“They put her in a halo,” Emmy says. “They put pins in her fingers, and a rod in her leg because of damage to her femur.”

Amora would stay five weeks in Children’s Hospital of Michigan. She now requires multiple therapies, requires a wheelchair, and is still, according to Emmy, wearing the halo, dealing with the femur rod, and sleeping in a rented medical bed in their home in Harper Woods. Worst of all, Amora wasn’t able to start school this month, which she had been so excited about.

Instead, she stays at home, with a long recovery ahead. Emmy has had to give up nearly all of her work in the real estate title business to take care of her daughter. Her husband is currently unemployed. It’s difficult. It’s draining. It haunts the family that this happened so fast, that in hindsight it was all so avoidable.

And now comes the really tragic part.

‘I had no idea’

Under Michigan’s old auto no-fault insurance law, little Amora’s medical needs would have been covered for the rest of her life. That law, the most compassionate of its kind, not only provided lifetime benefits for drivers and passengers severely injured in auto crashes, but for pedestrians, too.

For bicyclists. For people who don’t drive.

For kids who run across the street.

But our legislators, in the middle of the night, without any public hearings, passed a bill that killed that law after decades of existence — after we, the citizens, had paid $24 billion into the fund to cover ourselves. They did so under pressure from the insurance industry, politicians, businessmen and certain lawyers.

As a result, if a child lives in a home where no one has auto no-fault insurance, that child — if injured by a car — no longer gets lifetime medical benefits. Instead, the benefits are capped at $250,000 in something called the Assigned Claims Plan.

It took effect in June.

One month before Amora Harris was lying in the street, unconscious.

“I had no idea,” says Emmy, who does not have auto insurance. “I just found out this past week. A woman from the medical team told me about this $250,000 cap and said, ‘You may not have enough money to cover all this.’ I asked what Amora’s bills were up to, and she said around $140,000 just for the hospital stuff. That doesn’t include the medical rental thing, the therapies, or anything still to come. We don’t know what we’re going to do.”

This should scare you. It should also enrage you. Because it’s one of the little-known, little-discussed devastations of this new law which our legislators shoved upon us. They robbed us of a system that protected the most vulnerable of our citizens, in exchange for an empty promise of lowered rates that the insurance industry has already backed away from.

Our governor, Gretchen Whitmer, was all smiles as she signed this bill on Mackinac Island, a place where no cars are allowed.

Well. People ride bicycles on Mackinac. Did you know that thanks to this new law, if you ride a bicycle as transportation, and therefore don’t have auto insurance, and someone slams into you with a car, you are limited to the $250,000 cap by the ACP, regardless of the insurance of the driver?

Under the old law, you would have had lifetime benefits.

What exactly was Whitmer smiling about?

Rally in Lansing

There is a rally in Lansing on Wednesday, starting at 10 a.m., to show lawmakers our dissatisfaction with what they did, and to demand changes. You might consider attending if this makes you as angry as many Michiganders are — and if there is any hope of modifying the damage lawmakers have done before the bill takes full effect over the next few years.

It’s already too late for kids like Amora and parents like Donald and Emmy. When she hits the $250,000 cap, Amora will likely go on Medicaid, which taxpayers pay for. The level of care will not come close to what she could have had under our old system. And under that system, her mother could have at least been reimbursed for being her full-time home-care attendant. Under the new law, that is capped at 56 hours a week, or eight hours a day. What about the rest of the time?

Oh, by the way, the man who was driving the silver Impala? He didn’t have auto insurance. If you think this is not going to happen again and again, you’re not living in the real world.

This awful, poorly-thought-out bill will hurt everybody, but especially poor people who may not drive or who can’t afford to carry insurance — which will remain ridiculously high no matter what the insurance companies say, especially in impoverished areas. Kids living with non-driving grandmothers. Kids of divorce who are staying with the non-insured parent. Blind people who have no need for auto insurance.

The list goes on.

“There’s going to be thousands more Amora’s now,” said George Sinas, the legal counsel to Coalition Protecting Auto No Fault, who has been specializing in auto no-fault since he got out of law school in the 1970s, around the time our previous law was passed.

“Michigan was the only state that provided universal health coverage for a particular band of patients — auto crash victims — and it didn’t consume one dollar of taxpayer money, because all of the money was funded by the drivers.

“What the legislature did was absolutely deplorable. They did it without a single day of testimony, they did it behind closed doors, they did it without reaching out to experts in the field, and they didn’t do a damn thing to educate themselves about the potential negative consequences.”

Just the beginning

Instead, those negative consequences will start popping up story by story, one shocked expression after another, one “You’re kidding me! When did THAT happen?” response after the next.

There are so many elements of this law that will leave you shocked. Here’s just one for the folks who may have more money than Emmy and Donald do, in case you think money protects you:

Let’s say you live Up North. Your child just graduated from college, moves to Detroit and establishes residency, and relies on public transportation — and therefore doesn’t need auto insurance — then comes back to visit you, drives your car to run to the store, and gets in an accident. Even if you have the most expensive and extensive coverage available, your child will be capped by the ACP $250,000 limit.

Under the old law? Lifetime benefits.

This should make you furious. At the very least it should make you consider attending the rally in Lansing on Wednesday — and notifying your local lawmaker that you want this fiasco fixed.

“It really upsets me,” says Emmy Gillen, whose friends have started a GoFundMe page for Amora. “It’s not like our daughter was some grownup who was drunk or high or something. It’s totally unfair, not only for her, but it’s gonna be unfair for a lot of other children.

“There wasn’t a lot of consideration to this bill that they passed. To cap kids? This is the United States. Come on. You’re gonna just throw kids away?”

It’s a fair question. And there are dozens more.

Legislators? Care to answer?

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

1 Comment

  1. Theresa Ramus

    I am all in favor of getting this reversed. I don’t know what anyone was thinking of when they signed this. It makes one wonder what the real reason truly was. It was a thoughtless action by many. Keep us all informed on letters and petitions and maybe people will get really upset at the Governor and want to oust her out of office. They need to put some heat on some of these people today and they should be made accountable.
    In Biblical times we could feed them to the Lions!


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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