BELDING, Mich. —A family’s car destroyed, but not through any fault of their own.
“On that day I drove up to a gas station to get some gas for my car, and I was just coming home when I saw a car parked on the side of the road. I slowed down, and didn't see anybody there, so I picked up speed to go up the hill a little bit, and that's when the tree smashed on my car,” said Darrell Blanshan.
The tree that landed on Blanshan’s car on Jan. 17 was cut down by 23-year-old Bryan Byrne, who had someone with him, but they both failed to stop traffic let alone watch for traffic. The tree landed right on Blanshan's car. He came out of it with no injuries, but the car was totaled.
Now 7 months later, he and his wife are left with a damaged car and no money to fix it or buy a new one. They called the FOX 17 Problem Solvers to help them out.
The Blanshans thought it was odd that a tree falling on their car, through no fault of their own, would leave them high and dry with no solution. The Blanshans' vehicle has sat in their yard since being totaled. They are still trying to figure out what to do with it, or if they’ll ever get the money or help to fix it.
The 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier with 200,000 miles on it was the Blanshans’ lifeline. It got their kids to and from doctors’ appointments and school, as well as taking Darrell and his wife to work.
“I buy cheaper vehicles because we really can't afford it. I fix them up as we go. I always had the oil changed on it. I just put brand new tires on it, just two weeks before the wreck,” said Blanshan.
The Ionia County Sheriff's Department showed up on scene and took pictures as well as filed a report. The report discloses through an interview with Byrne that he admits he did not have traffic stopped. The Blanshans thought that because of that he would be responsible for paying for the damage.
“We haven't heard back from Bryan Byrne. We haven't heard back from the property owner. It’s just been frustrating to try to figure out where to go from here,” said Blanshan.
The first problem is that the Blanshans didn't have comprehensive insurance from their provider, Allstate. FOX 17 asked attorney Dave Pierangeli from McDonald, Pierangeli and Macfarlane, what difference that could have made for the Blanshans.
“In general it's going to cover the damage that was done, whether by vehicle or a tree in this case,” said Pierangeli.
The Blanshans won’t get a dime from their insurance company because they didn’t have that coverage. The Blanshans got the car appraised and there was $10,000 in damage. In the meantime, all Bryan Byrne got slapped with was a citation from the sheriff's department, which he paid.
Byrne wouldn't go on camera but his family told us he was cutting down a tree for firewood on his grandfather's property. His grandfather is the supervisor of Otisco Township, Paul Reeves. Byrne’s family says he made a mistake and paid his fine.
The Blanshans turned to their Plan B. They looked to see if the homeowner's insurance where the tree was cut down would be responsible for damages. Instead, they got a letter from Reeves' homeowner’s insurance company that said:
“Our investigation does not find any negligence on the part of Mr. or Mrs. Reeves. Based on this we are denying payment under their policy.”
The letter from the insurance company tells them they would need to look into the insurance of the person who cut it down. In this case Byrne doesn't have any insurance.
“From a legal perspective there are still options. They can still sue. They can sue the person who caused the tree to fall down, the problem is collectability. From my understanding the person who actually cut the tree and caused it to fall down was not insured,” said Pierangeli.
Pierangeli says that's why the Blanshans are having a hard time finding an attorney to take this case, because the legal fees outweigh the money they could get through court.
“You can have a judgment against somebody and if they can't pay you the judgment is only worth the paper it's on. That’s why if you are going to sue someone you have a better chance of collecting, the insurance is what is covering the person,” said Pierangeli.
The Blanshans are still confused as to why someone else's negligence leaves them to suffer the consequences.
Pierangeli said that even though comprehensive insurance is not required in Michigan, in cases like this it is crucial to have.
The Blanshans say they are still determined to bring their case to court.