The Buchanan couple has been struggling to stay afloat since last October when Philip was involved in an accident on Michigan 51 and Stateline Road in Niles Township, while he was driving a taxi for American Transportation On Time of South Bend.
A police report shows that Philip — who is currently confined to a wheelchair — was not at fault, and that the driver of another vehicle pulled out in front of him.
Still, Philip, 62, is fighting two insurance companies in court. Philip’s lawyer, Stevensville-based attorney Michael Marrs, said the companies will not cover the accident, leaving the couple with more than $350,000 in unpaid medical bills. That’s despite the fact that the taxi cab Philip was driving was insured and that Philip himself owns Michigan no-fault insurance from Farm Bureau of Michigan.
“Going into our 10th year of marriage, knowing my husband, it’s just crushing,” Kathie said. “I don’t think anybody should have to work as hard as he is to walk again, and have so many obstacles put in his place.”
The Hempels have filed lawsuits against both First Chicago Insurance Co. — the insurance provider for the cab company — and Farm Bureau Insurance, which insures Philip.
Should he be covered?
In the crash, Philip sustained several injuries — including a fractured arm and ribs, torn ligaments in his left knee and a shattered right leg. Philip was not speeding at the time of the Oct. 11 accident, according to the police report. The driver of the other vehicle told police she did not see the yellow cab and that she thought she had time to make (the turn).
Marrs said earlier this month at a news conference from Philip’s home that First Chicago Insurance was first contacted after the crash because the accident happened in a cab it insures. But, according to Marrs, the company denied coverage because it reportedly is not an approved Michigan no-fault carrier.
In those situations, Marrs said the next step would be to look for coverage from Philip’s own provider, Farm Bureau, which he said originally was going to pay for the medical bills before rescinding.
Marrs claims that Farm Bureau decided not to insure Hempel because it claims that anyone who drives a vehicle 30 or more days in a year in the state of Michigan is considered owner of that vehicle and is required to have that vehicle licensed, registered and insured.
But Marrs asserts that would be impossible. He said Hempel does not have an insurable interest in the taxi cab, and that the vehicle was not listed to him, nor was the vehicle registered in Michigan.
Hempel worked as an independent contractor with no ownership in the company or taxi. Marrs called Farm Bureau’s actions “predatory,” by denying all claims.
Marrs also warned drivers — especially those who live in Indiana — that if you drive 30 or more days in Michigan, you may need to be covered with a policy of insurance that provides Michigan no-fault coverage because of Farm Bureau’s alleged stance.
“I predict that your insurance company, if you are injured in an accident in Michigan, will act as Farm Bureau did and try to find a way to deny you coverage even though you have a valid policy of insurance with them and even though they may be authorized to do business in Michigan and therefore required to pay no-fault insurance benefits,” he said.
Heidi Davis, owner of American Transportation On Time, said it was her knowledge that First Chicago Insurance Co. insured her taxis up to 150 miles.
“They’re trying to find loopholes,” she said. “I don’t know what they’re doing with him honestly. We believed we had the correct coverage.
“It wasn’t the driver’s fault. What’s their argument if he didn’t do anything wrong. We’re hoping the insurance companies do the right thing. He didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this.”
First Chicago Insurance did not return phone calls last week seeking comment. Farm Bureau could not be reached for comment after several calls were made.