This week, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued a very significant published decision in a case that attorneys at our law firm had the privilege of handling on behalf of the surviving family members of a motorcyclist who was tragically struck and killed by an automobile. The motorcyclist left behind a wife and three minor children. Prior to his death, the motorcyclist was a hardworking husband and father. He provided a livelihood, including stable household income, health insurance, and dental insurance benefits for his entire family. Unfortunately, the family lost all of these things once the motorcyclist died.
Survivor’s Loss Benefits – Helping Bridge the Financial Gap Following Tragedy
Nothing can ever replace the actual loss that this family suffered. However, specific provisions included within the Michigan Auto No-Fault Act help eliminate the immediate financial impact associated with the surviving family members’ loss of household income and health benefits. No-fault insurers are required to pay surviving dependents survivor’s loss benefits (more on establishing dependency in claims for survivor’s loss benefits), according to these provisions. In particular, section 3108 of the Auto No-Fault Act requires insurers to pay personal protection insurance benefits for “contributions of tangible things of economic value . . . that dependents of the deceased . . . would have received for support if the deceased had not suffered the accidental bodily injury causing death.”
This awkwardly worded no-fault provision’s precise and actual meaning is often the subject of litigation in Michigan courts. However, it has long been accepted that the language of this provision requires an insurer to pay no-fault benefits for the loss of income and fringe benefits like health insurance. On that basis, our law firm assisted the surviving family members with making a claim for no‑fault benefits that included the loss of income and health insurance the family suffered.
Unfortunately, the auto insurer responsible for paying the family’s no-fault benefits refused to provide the family with health insurance. It was only willing to pay the amount that the deceased motorcyclist’s employer paid toward the family’s employer-provided health insurance plan. That amount of money, however, was nowhere near enough to purchase health insurance for the entire family going forward. This is because a private individual generally cannot purchase health insurance in the open market for the same reduced price an employer can. Additionally, two of the motorcyclist’s surviving children were not the biological children of his widow. Upon the tragic death of the father, those two children required a separate health insurance policy.
After the insurer refused to properly pay survivors loss benefits for the full replacement cost of the family’s health insurance, our law firm filed a lawsuit on the family’s behalf. We successfully obtained a court order directing the insurer to pay survivors loss benefits for the full replacement cost of the health insurance—for the entire family.
Appellate Court Issues Published Survivor’s Loss Benefits Opinion
Dissatisfied with the ruling, the insurance company filed an appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals in hopes of reversing the order to pay. However, on appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals not only rejected that attempt but did so in a written published opinion. Whenever an Appellate decision in Michigan is “published,” the result of that decision must be followed in all similar cases that come afterward. Because this is the case, all other insurers will be required to follow the results of this decision in other similar claims where this issue arises.
Ultimately, there are factual details and legal nuances in this case that are somewhat complex. However, beneath all of that complexity is one simple rule that cannot be ignored: no-fault insurers must pay survivors loss benefits in an amount that is enough to restore the “thing” that was lost as a result of the fatal accident—regardless of what that costs following the accident under the changed circumstances.
The Court of Appeals’ recognition of this in a published appellate opinion is a big victory. This is a win for the family involved in this case as well as every Michigan citizen faced with unexpected financial hardship following a tragic loss such as this one.
More Information on Survivor’s Loss Benefits
Grand Rapids personal injury attorney, Tom Sinas, talks about survivor’s loss benefits.
The Michigan auto accident attorneys at Sinas Dramis Law Firm have helped suffering families throughout the state obtain the legal benefits they are entitled to. If your family is currently experiencing a similar situation, please call us for a free initial case evaluation today at 866.758.0031 or submit an online request form.