'Rally for Vlady' pushes for changes to no-fault auto insurance law

Mark Hicks

Dozens of people gathered at the Spirit of Detroit Plaza on Thursday to continue the push for changes to the 2019 law overhauling Michigan's no-fault auto insurance policies.

A "Rally for Vlady: Lighting the Lamp for 18,000 Auto No-Fault Survivors" comes as families of crash victims await a Michigan Court of Appeals decision that could stop reform's more controversial provisions.

They and organizers such as the Brain Injury Association of Michigan argue the update has been unfairly and retroactively applied to accident survivors injured before the law took effect, including former Detroit Red Wing player Vladimir "Vlady" Konstantinov, who requires constant care after a limousine crash less than a week after winning the Stanley Cup in June 1997. Konstantinov appeared at the event.

Dozens attend a rally for changes to the no-fault automobile insurance law at the Spirit of Detroit Plaza in Detroit on Thursday.

He and at least 18,000 others have faced reduced services because of the reform limiting the time relatives can be reimbursed for care and a cut to the fees medical providers can charge insurance companies related to treating an injured motorist.

"These survivors are essentially being robbed," Thomas Constand, president and CEO, for the nonprofit Brain Injury Association of Michigan, told the crowd. "They deserve what they already paid for. And it's time for the government to protect the contractual rights of its citizens, not diminish them."

A three-judge appellate panel will rule whether the 2019 law was unconstitutionally applied to motorists insured and injured in a catastrophic crash prior to the law's effective date.

A lawsuit targets provisions of the new law that limit in-home attendant care to 56 hours  a week and a 45% cut to the fees medical providers are able to charge insurance companies for care provided to survivors of catastrophic crashes.

"The only real winners here are the auto insurance companies. Everyone else is getting cheated," state Rep. Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods, said. "We need to hold our insurance companies accountable. It’s the only way to protect not just crash survivors, but every single one of us who pay premiums in our state."

To celebrate the third anniversary of the reform being signed into law last month, insurance providers and business groups praised state leaders. The letter to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Wentworth and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, signed by groups including the Insurance Alliance of Michigan, touted the recent $400 rebates to drivers, lower auto insurance costs, upticks in newly insured drivers and the entry of new insurance companies in the marketplace.

Former Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty, right, hugs Laurie Oleska of Battle Creek, who traveled with her son, Dan, who uses a wheelchair to attend a rally for changes to no-fault automobile insurance reforms at the Spirit of Detroit Plaza, in Detroit.

In a statement to The Detroit News on Thursday, Erin McDonough, executive director of the Insurance Alliance of Michigan, said the reforms "safeguarded medically necessary care and our member companies continue to work with customers to ensure their medically necessary care is covered."

McDonough added the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services created a hotline for those unable to resolve issues.

"Three years into reforms, the department has heard from an incredibly small number of individuals worried about retaining their quality care or from medical providers with billing complaints," she said. "We think this is another indication no-fault reforms are working for millions of insured Michigan drivers and we should stay the course."

But many who gathered in Detroit on Thursday with signs reading messages such as "I'm just asking for what I paid for" disagreed.

"People are suffering — not just the injured like Vladimir and some of you but their families," said James Bellanca, who spoke on behalf of the hockey player.

"Vlady and the other survivors are not asking for special treatment. They just want the care that they need. They want what was prescribed to them. They want what was promised to them. They want the care that they already paid for through their insurance company. They want the care that will give them the opportunity to lead meaningful, productive lives. The Michigan No Fault law should not be retroactive."

Baba Baxter Jones of Detroit, who was brain injured in a 2005 accident, said he also worries about his future since a doctor told him he needed round-the-clock care.

"It’s not right," he said of the reforms. "It’s a contract, for God’s sake. We paid them a premium for the service of protection."