Area lawyer working to help restore No-Fault safeguards

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

There was a time – not so many years ago – when Michigan’s No-Fault Act provided lifetime medical coverage for whatever was reasonably necessary for an injured person’s care, recovery, or rehabilitation after being involved in an auto accident.

Furthermore, the injured person was entitled to this comprehensive medical coverage regardless of who was at-fault in the crash.

Then, in 2019, the Michigan Legislature enacted sweeping changes to the no-fault landscape that took effect the following year. For many accident victims and their families, it was a game-changer in a devastating financial and emotional way, according to Meagan O’Donnell, an attorney with the Bloomfield Hills law firm of Liss & Andrews.

Under the reform package, car crash victims no longer qualify for guaranteed lifetime coverage for medical and rehabilitation expenses unless they specifically purchase that coverage through their auto insurer, O’Donnell indicated. In addition, motorists could face increased liability in certain situations for the medical expenses they caused others to incur, further elevating their level of risk with possibly dramatic financial implications.

Which was why O’Donnell was among a contingent of some 30 attorneys affiliated with the Michigan Association of Justice who journeyed to Lansing last month to talk with state legislators about the need to enact revisions to the No-Fault law. The MAJ is an organization of more than 1,300 attorneys who represent individuals in injury, employment, civil rights, and criminal matters.

The contingent was led by MAJ President Jennifer McManus, an attorney with Fagan McManus in Royal Oak, Past Presidents Stuart Sklar, Ronald Weiner, and Judy Susskind along with a host of others interested in helping educate legislators on the need to fully protect victims involved in catastrophic loss cases, according to O’Donnell.

“Legislation is needed to address situations where attendant care is provided by a family member or loved one,” said O’Donnell, a University of Michigan alum who earned her law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy. “It’s been shown that long term patients do better in a home environment where their quality of life is enhanced by receiving care from a family member.”

Under provisions of the revised law, attendant care provided by a family member was limited to 56 hours per week, leaving the remaining time – 112 hours – to someone from outside the household, according to O’Donnell. It was just one of several unintended consequences of the reform package that needs to be rectified in order to restore the original provisions of the No-Fault Act, she said.

One in particular – whether the 2019 changes to Michigan’s No-Fault system are retroactive to cases that occurred before the reform package was enacted – was addressed by the Michigan Supreme Court in a July 2023 case, Andary v. USSA  Casualty Insurance Co., O’Donnell indicated. The case involved three plaintiffs, including Ellen Andary, who was catastrophically injured in a motor vehicle accident in 2014; Philip Krueger, who was catastrophically injured in a car crash in 1990; and the Eisenhower Center, a neurological rehabilitation facility in Ann Arbor where Krueger was a patient.

In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that changes made in the No-Fault auto insurance legislation do not apply to those catastrophically injured before 2019, finding that there was no express legislative intent to have the amendments apply retroactively.

The Supreme Court stated that an injured person’s “vested contractual right to continuation of those benefits at pre-amendment levels cannot be stripped away or diminished when the Legislature has failed to clearly state its intent to do so,” adding that no-fault benefits are both contractual and statutory in nature.

The case came as a welcome relief to crash survivors and their families who faced the loss of round-the-clock health care or were struggling with arbitrary caps and cuts in their care.

And yet, more work needs to be done to safeguard consumer protections, said O’Donnell.

“The MAJ, and other groups, are working to make these changes statutory in nature so that they are not dependent on judicial interpretation,” O’Donnell said.

To that end, she said, there is pending legislation in both the House and Senate (Senate Bill 329 and House Bill 5201) called the Policyholder Bill of Rights, informally known as a “Bad Faith” law.

“If passed, this law would create reasonable industry standards for investigating and paying claims and provide an alternate path to justice for insureds when their insurer improperly delays or denies payment of valid claims,”
O’Donnell explained. “It would cover not only auto claims, but includes home, life, and business policies.

“A Bad Faith law would level the playing field and place an insured’s interest on equal footing with the insurer and force insurers to cover losses based on policyholder needs and not on insurance company profits,” O’Donnell added. “Liss & Andrews avidly supports this legislation and would urge readers to contact their legislators to support this legislation too.”

O’Donnell, a product of Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights, studied criminal justice and linguistics at U-M before attending law school. While pursuing her juris doctor degree, O’Donnell served as a law clerk and attorney for Liss & Shapero, a personal injury firm in Berkley, spending 10 years there. The founding partner of that firm, Robert Liss, is the brother and former law partner of Arthur Liss, the founder of Liss & Andrews, which O’Donnell joined in 2021.

“I traded teams when I came here,” O’Donnell quipped of her legal move between brothers, noting that the change came with everyone’s blessing and support.

Since joining Liss & Andrews, O’Donnell has ramped up her involvement with the Michigan Association for Justice, becoming part of the inaugural class of the MAJ Leadership Academy while also serving on the organization’s Amicus Committee.

Now, as a key part of a law firm that deals exclusively with no-fault cases of the catastrophically injured, O’Donnell relishes the opportunity to assist clients facing daunting health and medical care challenges.

“I love being a trial lawyer and being able to help those who have suffered life-altering injuries,” said O’Donnell, who is married and the mother of two children, Emerson (3-1/2) and Calum, who was born last November.

Her husband, Scott Pawlak, is an attorney with Collins Einhorn, and specializes in automobile defense work, premises liability, and construction liability matters. The couple has been married for five years and met while they were in law school.

While O’Donnell and Pawlak are on opposite sides of the legal equation, they both share a philosophy to “truly making a difference in the lives of the clients we represent.” The message was underscored years ago by Arthur Liss, the founder of Liss & Andrews, who said as much during an interview with The Legal News in 2018.

“We represent individuals and families who are dealing with accidents and injuries that have literally turned their lives upside down – physically, emotionally, and financially,” said Liss, a Detroit native who earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Wayne State University. “They come to us for help, and for answers to their problems.”

And, in 2023 the firm delivered, enjoying a “groundbreaking year for Liss & Andrews clients” and in terms of “million-dollar-plus lawsuits following the Andary Supreme Court decision,” according to O’Donnell.

“We helped our clients obtain many multi-million-dollar settlements, which will help them deal with their medical care and attendant care needs in the years to come,” said O’Donnell. “It’s very gratifying to help those dealing with life-altering injuries.”

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