Crash victim: Catastrophic fund ‘small part of bill’

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On April 6, 1994, Brian Culver was a 21-year-old college athlete with a full life ahead of him. The next day, everything changed.

“All I could remember, I looked up and I was looking straight up at a big fluorescent light but I couldn’t move anything in my entire body.  I couldn’t move my head. All I could do was blink my eyes,” Culver said.

It wasn’t until more than a week later that Culver started to remember what happened.

A semi had been stopped on the side of the road where there was gravel on the pavement. Culver went around the sharp turn and saw the trailer, but couldn’t avoid it.  Photos of the crash are stunning. It left Culver with a broken neck, paralyzed from the neck down.

“The neurosurgeon had come into my room and he had told me that I had been in a car accident. I had broke my neck. There was a machine breathing for me and would be breathing for me the rest of my life and I’d be lucky to make it out of there alive,” Culver said.

That neurosurgeon didn’t know what Culver is capable of.  He pushed himself through 19 years of therapy and now breaths on his own. He has gone skydiving and even bobsledding.

A photo of Brian Culver's water physical therapy. Undated courtesy photo.
(A photo of Brian Culver’s water physical therapy. Undated courtesy photo.)

If not for Michigan’s Catastrophic Claims Association fund, Brian Culver says, he wouldn’t have gotten the treatment that ultimately saved his life.

In July, the cost of that fund to drivers increased to $189.34 per vehicle annually. Michigan drivers paid $177.18 per year into the fund in 2012.

Drivers pay this portion of their car insurance so critically injured car accident victims, like Culver, can get lifelong treatment. The fund has no cap, which has caused critics to question Michigan’s high insurance rates in comparison to other states.

“That’s a very small part of our bill and it seems to be the only thing that the insurance industry wants to focus on reforming, but I think there are a lot of other areas of our premiums to look at that need to be reformed,” Culver said.

Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) and the House Republicans unveiled a new auto insurance reform proposal earlier this month putting a cap on the catastrophic fund and creating an authority to investigate fraud.

State Rep. Ken Yonker (R-Caledonia) previously pushed similar legislation, but couldn’t get the votes to make it law.

“The big thing is the majority of the lawmakers want to protect the integrity of the catastrophic claim,” Yonker said. “Because we know what happens if we don’t have that is we go into bankruptcy.  That’s where you go before you can get Medicaid, and that’s very hard on families; very, very hard on the economy.”

Target 8 did the legwork uncovering just how much more drivers pay in Michigan. Online, the same truck was quoted for a $463 six-month premium in Michigan. But in Idaho, a six-month premium for the same truck only costs $239.

Culver admits Michigan needs auto insurance reform, but says the catastrophic fund isn’t the problem. He blames the way insurance companies price premiums.

“You can either choose to be a pioneer or an indian, and I’m glad Michigan is a pioneer and we’re willing to go our own course and do what’s best for our residents (regardless) of what the other 49 states are doing,” Culver said. “”An accident isn’t something you get to choose to have. You may say, yeah, you want to choose your coverage; ‘I’d like to choose my policy.’ Nobody chooses to get in a car accident. It happens.”

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Online:

Insure.com

Price insurance by states at esurance.com

Inside woodtv.com:

A infographic breakdown of Michigan’s no-fault insurance policy and the reform proposal from House Republicans (pdf)

The House Republicans’ auto insurance reform proposal (pdf)

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