MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. – A Macomb County man says he's locked in a life or death battle with two insurance companies. And, George Thomas Veness Sr. has already battled to survive for so long. In 2004, he fell of a roof. while on the job, and became paralyzed from the waist down. By 2012, his doctor gave him the green light for a more normal life.
"He told me go ahead and enjoy life and go to Texas and go see my grandkids," Veness told Ruth to the Rescue.
Sadly, that's when tragedy struck again. Veness was hit by an SUV while he was riding his motorized scooter to a Dunkin Donuts near his home in Centerline." It was a good day until I got hit, and then this changed everything."
Because he's paralyzed, he says didn't realize how serious his injuries from the accident actually were. He now has a long list of health issues that he maintains are connected to that accident.
The most pressing is an infection in his bones. His medical team says surgery is his only option but none of the insurance companies involved will cover the surgery he needs. "I just don't understand why they're leaving me hanging like this, when I'm supposed to be covered," said Veness his voice thick with frustration.
Two Companies, A Surprising Argument
George Thomas Veness Sr. paid State Farm for auto insurance on his van. According to Michigan law that policy should cover him if he's a pedestrian involved in an auto accident.
The driver who hit Veness is covered by Farm Bureau. At one point both companies came up with a surprising argument to deny coverage. "Their claim was, since this is a motor vehicle in Michigan, it should have had insurance," explained his attorney Harold Perakis.
The two insurance giants, in court documents, put forth the argument that motorized scooters or wheelchairs should be insured because they should be classified as vehicles under Michigan's No-Fault Act.
The argument stunned Veness, "At the time of the accident, the policeman never asked me for my registration and my proof of insurance."
His attorney explained that the Secretary of State does not register motorized scooters and insurance companies don't sell separate coverage. If the argument gains traction in the courts anyone who uses a motorized scooter might need to buy coverage someday.
"It saves State Farm lots of money by making the argument because they don't have to pay legitimate claims. On the other hand, it increases their premiums, because they have a new source of premium production," explained attorney Harold Perakis.
As the insurance companies fight to deny coverage, Veness worries his infection will get worse and he'll lose his fight to survive. Recently, the strong antibiotics he uses to fight the infection in his bones caused him to go into kidney failure. Doctors are hoping the kidneys will bounce back enough for him to
have surgery, if he can get the procedure paid for.
"If I seen somebody shot, you know, lying on the side of the road, I would try to get him help. I wouldn't try to say 'Who's going to pay to get this bullet out." said Veness.
Insurance Companies Respond
State Farm did not make someone available for an on-camera interview, but released this statement:
"Shortly after filing, State Farm withdrew its motion on whether a wheelchair should be considered an insured vehicle. It is our standard policy to not talk specifically and in detail about a case that is under litigation in order to protect the integrity of the process. In keeping with this standard policy, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time."
Attorneys for Farm Bureau also declined to do an on camera interview and released this statement: "Farm Bureau Insurance Company of Michigan is the automobile insurer of Quintin Ramanauskus, who is being sued by George Veness for injuries Mr. Ramanauskus claims were the result of a very minor motor vehicle accident that happened on June 19, 2012.
Farm Bureau Insurance Company of Michigan, and Secrest Wardle, have an ethical obligation to Mr. Ramanauskus to provide him a vigorous defense to all claims that are being asserted by Mr. Veness, including all legal defenses available under the Michigan No-Fault Act as currently written, along with medical defenses to the plaintiff's claim that he was injured in this minor accident.
It is the policy of this company not to comment on pending lawsuits, however, a motion to have the case dismissed is pending in the Macomb County Circuit Court and we expect a decision this fall." --- Thomas J. Azoni, Senior Partner at Secrest Wardle, Troy office, and Donald L. Jones, Attorney/Director Litigation Unit, Farm Bureau Insurance.