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Paralyzed West MI man says insurance company stalling on $420-thousand project

Estimates call for some $420,000 in accessibility-minded upgrades before Joe Reed can live there.

ALLEGAN COUNTY, Mich. — A West Michigan man, left paralyzed after a car accident, wanted was a home to call his own, to live his life and to remain as independent as possible.

The 13 Help Team became involved after he said his insurance company--which, he said was supposed to pay to have a wheelchair ramp and a host of other accessibility upgrades installed – stopped returning his calls and messages.

A Zeeland-native, Joe Reed likes to keep as active as possible. Reed’s two dogs often keep him company.  

“This is what we look forward to every day when it's nice out just come on here,” Reed smiled.

After all, their walks down the driveway account for the most all three regularly see of the wooded property near Dorr Reed called his dream home. It’s where he met us for an interview last month.  

“I look forward to coming out here and just going and getting my own mail.”

Even the mundane daily routine Reed once didn’t give a second thought may have, all of the sudden, seemed nostalgic given what would come next.

“November of 2015, I was on the way home and rolled it over,” he explained.

Reed had to be cut out of his wrecked truck by emergency crews outside of Zeeland. Later, airlifted to a waiting hospital, where doctors had news.

“I'm a C5-6 quadriplegic,” he related. “So I'm paralyzed from the armpits down.”

Months of inpatient rehab and years of subsequent outpatient therapy had left Reed without the use of his legs and only limited use of his arms and hands.

“I require 24 hour care,” Reed explained. “The whole time my goal has been to become as independent as possible.”

It was with that goal in mind…

“I purchased this house in the end of 2020,” he related.

To turn it from a house into a home though and, in the process, regain the independence he lost, Reed understood the reality was his ticket to self-sufficiency would require a complete accessibility upgrade.  

Reed said he and his caseworker spent the remainder of that year into 2021 collecting bids and drafting plans.

The contractor they selected put together an itemized estimate of the extensive work ahead, to be completed at a total cost of approximately $370-thousand.

Reed said State Farm agreed to cover the work and produced a contract the insurance company emailed toward the end of 2021.

“I went over it, I had spoken to an attorney about it to get everything interpreted… the wording in them and how that stuff works,” he said. “I made my revisions.”

A list of requested alterations to the agreement in question, like who should shoulder any future, medically-necessary work on the home or what Reed’s daily care should involve as his needs change over the years.

“I sent it back,” Reed related. “They came back with another release, the second one, and they hadn't changed really hardly anything.”

In the meantime…

“They keep on coming back and asking, well, how come the cost is going up? If the job's not changing?”

A side-by-side comparison of the original estimate drafted in June 2021 and the final estimate received approximately a year later, showed projected expenses had surged tens-of-thousands of dollars, increases Reed attributed to the broader inflation picture.

Yet, per the contract received in June of 2022, the work had been approved, budget over-runs and all…

“So I sent my revisions back in,” Reed noted. “I had every right to ask for the stuff that I was asking for.”

Reed said at the time, that marked the last he’d heard from State Farm, which stopped responding, he said, shortly thereafter.

“How many other thousands of people is this happening to who don't have the support system, they don't have the finances,” he questioned.

And without the cash to begin the work himself, until the house is a practical option, Reed’s insurance is renting him an apartment.

“So I sit in my apartment all day, I watch TV, and I wake up and I watch TV and that's what I do now,” Reed said. “Ever since I bought this place.”

That’s unfortunately not built for his wheelchair.

On the outside looking in, Reed’s got time to wonder what real life might look like.

“If I’m in an accessible environment I can do stuff,” he explained. “I can make partial meals and I can-- I love woodworking and all of that kind of stuff. I like painting. I like to… stay active and right now, because of all this, I'm just stuck.”

Responding to a request for clarification submitted by 13 OYS, a State Farm spokesperson related the following statement:

“Due to our company privacy policy, we can't speak to the specifics of any individual customer claim.

With any claim, State Farm seeks to provide our customers all benefits to which they are entitled within the terms of the insurance policy and in accordance with the No-Fault statute.

We can share that this is an active and ongoing claim and we will reach out directly to our customer to make sure they are aware of the most current status.”

Reed, speaking via phone Thursday, said following our outreach, the company had provided him with another contract. He credited us for the apparent progress and said he intended to review the document with his attorney in the coming days.

Future updates will be included with this story.

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