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How Rep. Cotter’s golf cart bills can help motorized wheelchair users get No Fault benefits

Excluding ‘motorized wheelchairs’ from No Fault law’s definition of ‘motor vehicle’ could stop State Farm and Farm Bureau from denying benefits

Golf cart driving on street

Last week, I wrote about a couple of bills proposed by Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) that would let people drive golf carts on the streets of small towns. Cotter doesn’t want golf cart drivers to be able to collect No Fault insurance benefits if they’re injured in a golf cart-on-golf cart accident.

On another important note, this proposed legislation with golf carts could  – with a slight legal modification – help ensure that No Fault insurance benefits are available and provided to motorized-wheelchair users.  That means the shameful denial of No Fault PIP benefits to George Veness by State Farm and Farm Bureau could be prevented the next time someone in a wheelchair is crossing the street and hit by a car.

I’ve been writing about State Farm and Farm Bureau denying No Fault insurance benefits to Veness, a paralyzed Macomb County man, after he was hit by a car while crossing the street in his wheelchair.

The reason for the claim denial? Mr. Veness did not  have insurance on his motorized wheelchair – even though such insurance doesn’t even exist! Here’s more information on the case: “State Farm’s treatment of wheelchair-bound man so outrageously ‘unbelievable’ it couldn’t be made up.”

In order to ensure golf cart drivers can’t collect No Fault benefits for a cart-on-cart crash, Cotter introduced House Bill 5045 and House Bill 5636 (October 2013 and June 2014, respectively), which exclude “golf carts” from the No Fault law’s definition of “motor vehicle.”

Although the exclusion denies No Fault PIP benefits to golf cart drivers in the scenario targeted by Cotter, it also ensures No Fault protection to golf cart drivers in another very important scenario:

When a golf cart is struck by a car or truck

By excluding golf carts from the Michigan No Fault law’s definition of “motor vehicle,” Cotter’s proposal prevents an auto insurance company such as State Farm from distorting the meaning of “motor vehicle” so as to justify denying No Fault insurance benefits to a golf cart user who is injured in a future car accident.

Specifically, it prevents the auto insurer from arguing the golf cart was a “motor vehicle” and thus, under Michigan’s mandatory No Fault law, should have been insured. This would stop State Farm and Farm Bureau from arguing a person in  a golf cart or a wheelchair is  “uninsured” and, therefore, ineligible to receive No Fault insurance benefits or any legal compensation if they’re struck by a car or truck. This was the same ridiculous argument made by State Farm and Farm Bureau in the motorized wheelchair case.

And this is where Cotter’s bills can help people in motorized wheelchairs.

If Cotter amends his bills to exclude “motorized wheelchairs” from the No Fault law’s definition of “motor vehicle” – as he has done for golf carts – then he will be providing critical No Fault protection to motorized-wheelchair users if they’re ever involved in a car accident.

With the graying of our population and the aging of the baby boomers, this scenario is more a question of how many people will be hit by cars in golf carts and wheelchairs. We can stop insurers from taking advantage of an absurd legal argument to deny coverage to people – something that was never contemplated when the Michigan No Fault law was enacted.

By excluding “motorized wheelchairs” from the No Fault law’s definition of “motor vehicle” – and doing so retroactively, we can stop auto insurers like State Farm and Farm Bureau from from making an absurd legal argument and then denying and cutting-off  No Fault insurance to our most vulnerable citizens when they will need it most.

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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