Mich. House Passes Legislation Related to Damages in Auto Accidents

March 16, 2007

A divided state House voted to pass a bill that would change who is able to sue and collect damages under Michigan’s automobile insurance laws.

The legislation, HB 4301, passed the Democratic-controlled House on this week by a 58-51 vote, mostly along party lines. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it may not be a high priority and may likely face opposition from Republicans who control the chamber.

Under current law, when people are injured in auto accidents, their medical bills and up to three years of lost wages are covered through their personal injury protection insurance, which Michigan drivers are required to have.

State law also allows noneconomic damages, or pain and suffering, but only when the victim is killed, seriously impaired or seriously disfigured.

The Legislature and former Republican Gov. John Engler in 1995 defined the law to say the injury must affect a person’s “general ability to lead his or her normal life.” In a case nine years later, known as the Kreiner decision, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the injury must affect the “course and trajectory” of one’s general life, among other criteria.

Under the measure passed this week, an injured person could sue for lost wages and noneconomic damages under broader terms than now defined in state law and through court decisions, making it easier for people injured in auto accidents to sue.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Paul Condino of Southfield, says the legislation fixes what he considers a travesty of justice based on the 2004 Supreme Court decision.

Condino cited the case of a temporarily hospitalized 76-year-old grandmother with six broken ribs and a collapsed lung who lost a lawsuit last year when Michigan courts ruled the injuries didn’t affect her general ability to lead her normal life.

He and other critics say the ruling has shut off some people from collecting benefits.

“That would be a terrible price to pay … because of a single court decision that the Michigan Legislature never intended,” Condino said.

Republicans and insurers counter by saying drivers would pay higher premiums if Condino’s bill becomes law. They said the legislation would allow suits for pain and suffering by people with minor injuries, bringing a flood of suits that Michigan’s auto no-fault law is designed to avoid.

“This bill would benefit a small group of citizens and a large group of attorneys, while driving up the costs for many,” said Rep. Fulton Sheen, a Republican from Plainwell.

There also is legislation on the issue pending in the state Senate, sponsored by Republican Bruce Patterson of Canton.

A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop said the House-passed bill would require extensive review and added that Bishop’s top priority is resolving the current budget deficit, making it unlikely the bill will come up for consideration in the Senate any time soon.

The only Republican to vote for the bill was Rep. Ed Gaffney of Grosse Pointe Farms.

Rep. Lisa Wojno, a Democrat from Warren, did not vote.



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