40ºF

Insurance benefits decreased for sisters seriously injured in crash 30 years ago

Insurance investigation underway

Two sisters who suffered debilitating injuries in a crash decades ago were promised that an insurance company would pay for their care for the rest of their lives, but their caretakers said that's not happening.

The crash left Amy Ruth Cooper and Lora Lee Cooper unable to talk or care for themselves, and now the insurance company that promised them lifetime care has allegedly cut off rent payments.

Local 4 Defender Kevin Dietz spoke to both sides of the story, and nobody is arguing that a tragic car crash left two young children in need of lifetime care. The question is whether insurance companies can reduce payments over time, and whether it's the right thing to do.

The car crash happened 30 years ago and left Amy Ruth Cooper in need of constant care from others for survival. She's legally blind, nonverbal and requires tube feedings.

"She is totally dependent on nursing around the clock for her survival," caregiver Lenea Hardiman said.

Lora Lee Cooper was in the same crash. She is more mobile than her sister, but suffers from severe brain damage, which requires constant monitoring from others to protect and assist her. She can nod to answer questions, but can't speak. She doesn't comprehend certain concepts, like that hot water can burn her.

"They don't have a voice so I'm their voice," Hardiman said. "I'm their eyes and ears, and I'm their legal guardian, so here I am."

Hardiman said insurance picked up the tab for the sisters' care for nearly three decades with few problems, but last May the women's mother died and things changed.

"They are in an apartment together that I've been paying for since day one," Hardiman said. "AAA was compensating their rent prior to this, but after their mother expired on May 25, 2016, AAA has stopped paying their rent."

Attorney Paul Valentino has filed a lawsuit against AAA, saying the mother's death is no reason to reduce benefits.

"It's just stunning to me that after the mother passed away a year ago, they stopped paying rent for the girls and they have been slow paying or not paying the benefits she's entitled to," Hardiman said.

In a written statement, AAA said:

"The Auto Club Group has honored its commitment to provide benefits under their no-fault insurance policy for over 30 years. This includes, but is not limited to, medical treatment and attendant care related to the injuries these two women sustained in this accident. All benefits for their care are currently paid in full."

AAA wouldn't comment further because of the pending lawsuit.

Day care providers said they have been spending their own money to fill the gap.

"I basically took over where their mom left off at, and they need me and I'm here," Hardiman said. "I'm the closest thing they have to a mother, and it does weigh a lot on me as if they were my own children."

Valentino called the reduction in benefits unacceptable. AAA said it's meeting its obligation. The battle looks destined to be resolved in a courtroom.

If the courts rule not to reinstate the original benefit amounts, the care provider said she will continue to pay what she can, but at some point the women would have to reduce costs and the quality of life they currently have.