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How Michigan Auto Law attorneys are honoring Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month

September 22, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

Let’s re-think what legal rulings like Admire v. Auto Owners are doing to people with SCI in Michigan

Erica Nader Coulston at Walk the Line to SCI recovery
Erica Nader Coulston training at Walk the Line to SCI Recovery rehabilitation center in Southfield.

There are about 200,000 people living with spinal cord injuries (SCI) in the U.S., according to the National Spinal Cord Association. A majority of these terrible injuries occur in car and truck accidents. Our attorneys work with the survivors of these accidents, and many of the cases we litigate involve first-party No Fault claims for attendant care, van modifications and home modifications for people with serious spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Sadly, these No Fault insurance cases have become far more difficult for spinal cord injury survivors after the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling in Admire v. Auto Owners, in which the majority misapplied the No Fault law to deny a van for an auto accident victim. Insurance companies in Michigan have been busy relying on the Admire case to slash payments to their insureds (remember, in Admire, Auto Owners had already willingly paid for a modified van three times before).

This has made the legal climate for people with severe SCI and TBI over the past year far more challenging than ever before. And these legal opinions have had a disproportionately harsh effect on the most catastrophically injured auto accident victims.

How sad, considering the law is harming those who need our No Fault law today, but ignoring the now rampant No Fault PIP fraud that’s being committed on both sides. Today, there are entire plaintiff personal injury law firms in Michigan that churn No Fault cases to certain medical providers so they can take a third to half of the bills.  On the other side, we see insurance companies like State Farm who will use any excuse, no matter how ridiculous to avoid paying people on legitimate no fault PIP claims (Take a look at the latest, where State Farm insisted a paralyzed man who was hit by a car in his wheelchair should have had No Fault insurance on his wheelchair!).

Strides for people with spinal cord injury

In honor of SCI Awareness Month, Michigan Auto Law has donated to the Michigan Spinal Cord Injury Association and Walk the Line to Spinal Cord Injury Recovery rehabilitation center. Our attorneys made these contributions to support research, to find better treatments and therapy and ultimately, a cure.

One of our good friends in the spinal cord injury community is Erica Nader Coulston and all of the great people at Walk the Line in Southfield, Michigan. Erica is an outspoken No Fault insurance advocate, amidst the insurance industry push for No Fault “reform.” Proposals aim to cap No Fault benefits and attendant care nursing services for accident victims, many who are spinal cord injury survivors and rely on this medical treatment to survive and heal.

Erica also runs Walk the Line, and their cutting-edge rehabilitation teams are making miracles in helping people with SCI move toward their goal of walking.

Meanwhile, the technology to help people with spinal cord injuries is evolving quickly. I recently read about a connected wheelchair, developed by Stephen Hawking and Intel.

The concept intends to “transform standard wheelchairs into data driven, connected machines,” according to a recent article by Business Insider. The wheelchair absorbs biometric information from the user and mechanical information from the machine that can then be analyzed. It also comes with an app that lets wheelchair users map and rate the accessibility of different locations.

If the medicine is not quite there yet, this advanced technology can certainly help in the meantime. But the medical community isn’t backing down.

I also recently wrote about a groundbreaking research project at the hands of Neuroscientist Susan Harkema of the University of Louisville , that marks the first time electrical stimulation directly to the spinal cord has made paralyzed patients voluntarily move.

The medical technology involves surgically implanting a stimulator and giving it directions with an external remote control. The stimulator creates a small, slightly visible bulge in the lower abdomen and is connected to wires that send electrical pulses to the spinal cord.

But Michigan law isn’t helping with cutting-edge SCI treatment

Of course, the Michigan Supreme Court isn’t helping with such groundbreaking developments. I was interviewed about the terrible decision in Michigan that allows insurers to refuse to pay for medical treatment that they deem “experimental.”  The problem, of course, is that every successful medical treatment is considered “experimental” during the beginning years.  And now, instead of being at the medical forefront, the court dooms the people with spinal cord injury to be laggards in receiving the best medical treatment for their injuries.

I look forward to the day where there’s a cure for spinal cord injury, and accident survivors will not need so much legal help in Michigan just to recover the medical care and No Fault benefits they should be entitled to under our law.


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