Even when DDOT drivers aren't at fault, bus accidents still cost city millions

Posted at 4:19 PM, Oct 17, 2017

After the bus accident, Jessie Payne laid in a coma for seven months.

The 71-year-old’s legs were crushed after a City of Detroit bus driver struck her, failing to see Payne as she walked through a mall parking lot.

“They didn’t think I was going to make it,” she said.

Payne is one of the handful of men and women injured every year by a City of Detroit bus. Allegations of bus driver negligence have cost the city millions in just the last few years.

But with some accidents, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault.  As our investigation has uncovered, the city often pays even if it did everything right.

In December 2015, near the corner of Gratiot and Chene, a Detroit bus was parked at this bus stop while passengers climbed aboard. But while they were taking their seats, a Chevy Impala came out of nowhere and rear-ended the bus.  Two passengers were injured. Like many men and women who ride buses in Detroit, neither had car insurance.

In Michigan, when you get in an accident--even as a passenger--it’s your insurance that covers your no-fault benefits.

That one accident at Gratiot and Chene has cost city taxpayers more than $42,000 so far, the result of a little known but costly quirk in Michigan’s no-fault automobile insurance that comes at a cost to taxpayers.   

It happens because when bus passengers who don’t carry insurance are injured on a city bus, responsibility for their no-fault benefits falls to the bus’s owner: in other words, you and me.  It effects every city in the state, but in Detroit—where up to 60% of residents have no auto insurance—it means a small fortune.

“So every year, the city is paying millions of dollars for somebody else’s mistakes,” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“Oh yeah, that’s true,” said Chuck Raimi, the city’s deputy corporation counsel.

Of the almost $17 million paid out by Detroit taxpayers after bus accidents since 2015, city officials estimate that maybe half stems from no-fault claims, regardless of whether the city did anything wrong.

“It’s probably a hole in the essential insurance act,” said Butch Hollowell, who heads the city’s law department.

Hollowell helped write the no-fault reform legislation currently making its way through Lansing. If it passes, he says, it’ll help reduce the no-fault burden on taxpayers.

The legislation aims to cut the cost of insurance in Detroit by 25-50%.  If it works, Hollowell says that more residents—including bus passengers—will be insured and when bus passengers do get hurt, they’ll be more likely to carry insurance that will cover the cost of their accidents.  The bill, which has bipartisan support, is facing plenty of opposition from groups who say it will lead to inferior care for accident victims.

It currently sits in committee.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at or at (248) 827-9466.