Put that helmet back on, at least for now

Over the weekend a few motorcycle enthusiasts I know were so eager to take advantage of Michigan’s new “helmet choice” law that they forgot to do one little thing: comply with it.

Senate Bill 291, now Public Act 98 of 2012, lets motorcyclists choose whether to wear a helmet if they have passed a motorcycle safety course or have had their motorcycle endorsement for at least two years, and carry extra insurance. Motorcycle passengers who want to exercise this option also must be 21 or older and carry an additional $20,000 in insurance. It went into effect immediately Friday.

That additional insurance is no-fault person injury coverage also known as PIP coverage. And almost no motorcyclist on the road currently buys it, even though it was available even before the new law, because it’s so expensive, according to Farmington Hills personal injury attorney Steven Gursten.

“I’ve been working with motorcycle accident cases for 20 years and I can count on my fingers the number of clients who actually had motorcycle PIP coverage,” he said.

He added that because the law was only signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday morning, it would have been virtually impossible for anyone who didn’t already have motorcycle PIP coverage to have purchased it before going for a wind-in-their-hair ride.

Not that the $20,000 in coverage would get an injured person very far.

“You can sneeze in an emergency room and use up $20,000 worth of coverage,” Gursten said.

But they’ve got to have it anyway if they plan on riding without a helmet. And they might not even know that they are not in compliance with the law.

“Every insurance agent who has customers with motorcycles needs to call their customers immediately,” Gursten said.

PIP compromise bill might be on the way

Yesterday, State Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, introduced a bill that is far less Draconian than the no-fault reform bills introduced in the Senate last March. Because the bill represents more compromise, it may have a far better chance of making its way to Gov. Snyder’s desk.

The bill, HB 4936, like Senate Bill 293, allows insurance buyers to purchase less-than-lifetime personal injury protection. But SB 293 allows coverage as low as $50,000, which critics have aptly noted doesn’t go very far in treating catastrophic injuries. The house version’s lower limit is $250,000, which the Insurance Institute of Michigan has said is enough to cover nearly 99 percent of all no-fault claims, and is five times more than than in New York, the state with the next-highest minimum behind Michigan’s lifetime coverage.

Lund’s bill would also cap PIP coverage at $5 million, which is causing alarm among lawyers who strongly argue that the unlimited lifetime PIP coverage is the cornerstone of Michigan’s no-fault system. But insurance industry leaders have for years been saying that lifetime benefits are crippling Michigan’s no-fault system, and create such a big and unpredictable weight on the system that no-fault is unsustainable.

The house bill includes other compromises, requiring a give-and-take among the bar, insurance carriers and health care providers. Like SB 294, it would set a fee schedule for providers identical to workers’ compensation. Currently, the fees paid by some no-fault insurers are astronomically higher (as much as tenfold) than workers’ compensation — the second most generous fee schedule in the state, richer than Blue Cross and Medicare.

It would also eliminate some of the dread over what could happen if the now-conservative Michigan Supreme Court finds the right case to overturn McCormick v. Carrier, and return to a serious impairment threshold identical, or more stringent, than Kreiner v. Fischer.

Be sure to read Monday’s Michigan Lawyers Weekly for full coverage of the proposed reforms.