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Is plan to scrap No Fault a bluff by politicians?

February 19, 2018 by Steven M. Gursten

Politicians’ statements suggest bills to scrap No Fault law are intended more as a threat to force medical groups and trial lawyers to accept the insurance industry’s wish lists to cap No Fault and make other changes in MI’s auto law

Are politicians using plan to scrap No Fault as a bluff to gain acceptance of No Fault caps?

Is the plan to scrap No Fault really just a way for House Republicans to coerce drivers, hospitals, medical providers and No Fault lawyers into accepting the insurance industry wish list in the recently defeated Theis-Duggan-Leonard plan?

It’s starting to sound that way, and Michigan drivers should be furious that we’re being cravenly manipulated by our elected officials.

This bait and switch behind the recently introduced bills to end No Fault and replace our auto No Fault law with a pure tort liability system was laid bare by comments from one of the bills’ six sponsors, Rep. Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis).

Of the legislation that he signed onto and officially introduced in the Michigan Legislature, Rep. Miller said the following to Crain’s Detroit Business’s Chad Livengood:

“I think on the House floor, [legislation to repeal No Fault has] got a snowball’s chance in hell (of passing) … I’m not unrealistic about its chances — I don’t think it has any chance.”

(Source: Crain’s Detroit Business, “Auto insurance reformers: Get rid of no-fault,” Chad Livengood, February 11, 2018)

Crain’s Detroit’s Livengood read between the lines of Rep. Miller’s revealing admission:

The legislation to repeal Michigan’s No Fault law “may just be a trial balloon — an attempt to get the various entrenched business interests of insurance companies, hospitals, rehab centers and personal injury attorneys to agree to changes in the system.”

Calling it a “trial balloon” is polite.

What it really is is politicians playing chicken with many of the groups that opposed plans by Detroit Mayor Duggan and House Republicans to replace lifetime necessary medical care with a draconian cap on all non-emergency room care with all No Fault benefits capped at only $25,000.

It’s these House Republicans’ way of saying that if you don’t go along with the changes they want (which is, ultimately, what their deep-pocketed insurance industry backers want), then they’re going to threaten to take their toys and go home by threatening to repeal No Fault altogether.

It’s the Hobson’s choice of take what we’re offering or get nothing at all.

How do we know that the bills to scrap No Fault are really just a bluff?

Lest there be any doubt about the insincerity of the backers of the No Fault repeal bills, consider the recent flip-flopping by Rep. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), the sole-sponsor of the Theis-Duggan-Leonard plan that was roundly defeated, 63-45, in November 2017.

In her January 28, 2018, Guest Blog for Crain’s Detroit Business, she stated:

  • “No-fault needs reform …”
  • “I have made it clear that my No. 1 priority in Lansing is to reform Michigan’s auto no-fault system.”
  • “I will continue to work with my colleagues in both the Michigan House and Michigan Senate on no-fault reforms over the coming months.”

Then, by February 1, 2018, Theis, the chair of the House Insurance Committee (who has also announced that she’s running for State Senate), had changed her tune completely.

In a statement on the House Republicans website, which announced that Rep. Theis and “five other House colleagues … today unveiled legislation … repealing Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system,” she is quoted as saying:

“For decades we have tried to reform no-fault and those attempts continue to fail, so now it is time to just eliminate the system all together.”

Threat to scrap No Fault is not the way to address meaningful No Fault reform

This is no way for politicians to meaningfully address the issue of improving No Fault auto insurance to make it more affordable while still protecting No Fault benefits and legal protections for injured car accident victims.

Plus, from a policy perspective alone, these politicians are dead wrong about the plan to scrap No Fault.

I’ve been one of the most vocal and staunchest supporters of Michigan’s No Fault system and the life-saving benefits and medical care it provides to car accident victims.

But I’m also a realist about what the ongoing attacks on No Fault by the courts and politicians are doing to dismantle the crucial safety net that our auto No Fault law provides.

As I explained recently in my comments about No Fault repeal:

“One of the overarching themes I’ve emphasized is that No Fault in Michigan has been under relentless political attack. Those who believe in auto No Fault, and I count myself as a supporter, have watched as our auto No Fault law is systematically gutted and abused by the courts and politicians. For car accident lawyers like myself, the worry is that our insurance law in Michigan is year by year being diminished to the point of soon being meaningless and useless for the people who need it the most …”

We can do better. For all the car accident survivors with catastrophic injuries, both now and those who will have the need for catastrophic care in the future if they are one day in the wrong place at the wrong time, we desperately must do better than threats and scare tactics by our elected officials.

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