I’ve been a Michigan attorney for 35 years. Prior to founding my current company, Lawsuit Financial Corporation, and going into the lawsuit funding business, nationwide, I practiced personal injury law, in Michigan, for over 20 years. During my 35 years in the Michigan legal system, I have seen various Republican politicians destroy citizen access to Michigan’s civil justice system. The theory that is always proffered for restricting the rights of the weakest of our citizens, the severely injured and disabled, is that unrestricted lawsuits are "bad for business". Unbelievably, that is the political justification for what has become known as "tort reform" or "liability reform".
During my practice years, I witnessed the passing of laws that placed damages caps on certain types of product liability and medical malpractice cases. I saw immunities granted in situations where liability used to exist. Special mention should be made of the pharmaceutical liability situation in Michigan; in an effort to keep a certain drug company from leaving the state, Republican legislators passed the only absolute drug immunity law in the country for FDA approved drugs. If the FDA has approved a drug, no matter how dangerous it is, no matter how serious its side effects turn out to be, a Michigan resident cannot pursue litigation against the offending company. Ask those Michigan citizens who have suffered heart disease, stroke, or other disabling conditions from bad drugs what they think of the concept of putting "business" ahead of "justice". Oh, by the way, that drug company that threatened to leave Michigan? It left anyway, after the passage of this obscene law.
I have witnessed the complete gutting of years of precedent by a State Supreme Court majority that accepted millions in campaign contributions from multi-million dollar corporate interests. Premises liability law now states that businesses no longer need to keep their premises safe for their customers; instead, the entire burden of care falls on the customers who must "watch where they are going", no matter how negligent the business owner happens to be.
I have also witnessed, almost from inception, the country’s only pure no-fault automobile insurance law and system. This law was designed as a pro-business, pro-insurance industry statute; the objective was to limit a person’s ability to sue an at-fault party for injuries caused by the at-fault party’s negligence. In exchange for both parties being able to pursue auto repair and out-of-pocket medical and attendant care bills (regardless of fault), the ability to pursue recovery for pain and suffering became limited to "serious injuries" only. The purpose then, and now, was to limit insurance company pay-outs for pain and suffering and to make the burden for collecting such benefits extremely high. Coupled with the fact that most at-fault citizens are of modest means and have only $20,000 liability limits for pain and suffering lawsuits, this has been an absolute "win-win" for the insurance company. Mild to moderate injuries do not qualify for recovery under the no-fault standard. Serious injuries and death do qualify, but, in most instances, the insurance company’s liability is limited to a policy limits recovery of $20,000. Nice deal if you are an insurance company, isn’t it? Of course, it is a very bad deal if you are an injured citizen.
A strange thing happened to the insurance carriers on their way to the bank. The unlimited medical expense feature of the no-fault act, the only element of the law that is "citizen-positive" began to cost the carriers some money. Their solution to this "problem" of having to pay their own policy holders actual benefits for the premiums they pay has been to deny these benefits, even when dealing with their own, premium paying, policy holders. The strategy is and was to send policy holders to retired doctors, bought and paid for by the insurance companies (some did and do nothing else and make millions as "benefit cut-off doctors"), to examine victims and support the denial of benefits to them. If this sounds like professional prostitution to you, that’s because it is.
The strategy works, but it has encountered one major roadblock: Those injured and entitled to benefits under the no-fault law began to reject these denials; they retained attorneys, and the attorneys filed lawsuits on behalf of policy-holders and against insurance companies, you know, the companies that injured citizens paid all those premiums to for all of those years for the coverages that these "good hands people" or "good neighbors" were supposed to provide in the rare event that an accident actually occurred. And policy holders were winning a few of these lawsuits, here and there. The insurance companies didn’t like it, not one bit. For the first time, they actually had to pay benefits to their policy holders instead of the jackpot known as premium collection or providing "insurance" for no return benefit to the customer.
So, a new strategy was needed. Michigan has a new Republican Governor; it has a Republican majority legislature. The insurance companies began lobbying the same pro-business groups that helped pass all of those other anti-justice, pro-business, measures in Michigan. And these lobbying groups are now putting pressure on the Michigan Legislature to amend the only good feature of the Michigan no-fault law. The insurance lobby and corporate interests now want to put an end to unrestricted, unlimited medical coverage for Michigan citizens. But, there is resistance, and not from the usual suspects.
A new study, concludes that Michigan’s Medicaid program (the taxpayers) could spend an additional $30 million during the first year alone, if the proposed changes to Michigan’s no-fault law take effect. Public Sector Consultants, the Lansing firm conducting the study, concluded that there are no compelling reasons to reduce no-fault coverage. And the group for who the study was conducted includes the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (representing community hospitals) and the Michigan State Medical Society (representing over 14,000 Michigan physicians) which doesn’t want the Medicaid system (taxpayers) burdened with a responsibility that private industry (insurance) should bear. When it comes to malpractice protections, this group is all for liability reform; but when it effects how much and how soon its own bills will get paid, tort reform, suddenly, becomes a bad idea.
That a community which puts its own interests ahead of the public’s would support pro-public findings when it suits them is not all that surprising. By the way, the reason it suits them, in this instance, is because public Medicaid reimbursements are lower than those provided by private, no fault auto insurers. And, it takes just south of forever for a medical provider to get paid by Medicaid. But, I have found that all "tort reform" advocates are self-interested, anti-public, hypocrites. As to the medical community’s opposition to this proposed legislation, it finds itself in an unusual alliance with the trial lawyer and public justice communities. Bad law proposals breed strange bedfellows, indeed.
As to the public interest, these proposed changes to the Michigan no-fault system are a bad deal for Michigan citizens. Insurance and business interests want to take away the benefits that the public received in trade for losing its ability to sue for pain and suffering. In other words, with unbelievable gall, these insurance and corporate interests now want to take everything and provide nothing in return, yet retain provisions that require citizens to maintain insurance. That’s correct; they want to compel you to continue to pay high premiums for an essentially worthless automobile insurance policy and even more for one that provides actual coverage.
How do you stop the madness? Call, write, send an email to your state representative and/or state senator. Tell them, in no uncertain terms, that this is a bad deal for Michigan Citizens. Tell them that you cannot vote for someone who supports these anti-citizen proposals. And, if they insist on voting for the corporations and against the public interest, use your vote to throw the bums out. You have the power, more than you think. Don’t concede our state, our country, and our precious civil rights to corporate interests; exercise your constitutional rights of voice and vote.
Mark M. Bello is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation where he is instrumental in providing cash flow solutions and consulting when necessity of life lawsuit funding is needed during litigation. Mr. Bello has thirty-four years experience as a trial lawyer and 13 years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the litigation funding industry. Mr. Bello is a sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Member of the American and Michigan Bar Associations, Member of the Public Justice Foundation, out-of-state member of the Mississippi Association for Justice and a business associate of the Florida Justice Association, Tennessee Association for Justice, Central Ohio Association for Justice and the Consumer Attorneys of California. He is also a proud member of the InjuryBoard.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.