ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Judge Donna Howard said she is willing to order another insurance company to pay 100 percent of costs associated with someone who was catastrophically injured in a car accident before auto insurance reform went into effect July 1, 2021 .
This time it’s in the care of 29-year-old Kiera Ogburn of St. Joseph Township, who can only blink since she was hit by two cars in June 2010 while walking through Benton Township.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Howard said she had no choice because of a recent Michigan Court of Appeals ruling in a similar case, Andary v. USAA Casualty Insurance Co. Debt Insurance Reform Act cannot be applied retroactively. That case is expected to be heard by the Michigan Supreme Court in its March 2023 hearing.
Howard said Tuesday she is ready to sign the warrant as soon as she receives it from attorney Steve Hulst.
He represents Ogburn’s grandmother and guardian, Josephine Wooden, and Private Duty Home Healthcare St. Joseph, the company that cares for Ogburn 24/7. Hulst said to have the order ready next week at the latest.
After the hearing, Private Duty owner Lori Costanza said the insurance company, Auto-Owners Insurance Co., owes Private Duty more than $150,000 for Ogburn’s care.
This is at least the second time Howard has ordered a car insurance company to pay more money.
In October, she ordered Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company of Michigan to pay 100 percent of the costs associated with caring for Joyce Yerington of Bainbridge Township, who was catastrophically injured in a 2019 car accident.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Auto-Owners Insurance Co. attorney Lori McAllister said she understands Howard’s hands are tied, but she wanted to make sure the order contained language that protects the insurance company during future lawsuits.
The Ogburn case continues with a possible jury trial to decide whether Auto-Owners must pay fines and attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs.
McAllister said she is also involved in the Andary case, which will go to the Michigan Supreme Court next spring. She said she does not expect a ruling in that case until June.
The state’s auto reform bill aimed to lower auto insurance rates for drivers in Michigan.
It only requires auto insurance companies to reimburse providers for 55 percent of what they paid in 2019 for services not covered by Medicare, which includes most home health care. That percentage dropped to 54 percent in July and will drop to 52.5 percent after July 1, 2023.
However, people who were injured before the law came into effect have said the reduction in payments should not apply to them.
The Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association states that more than 17,000 people were catastrophically injured before auto insurance reform took effect.