FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich., June 12, 2015 – Tom Nithyanand has lost a year of his life he will never get back, trapped in Michigan’s guardianship system and leaving his family asking one big, simple question: why?
Consider: the 21-year-old Tom Nithyanand recently completed a test through his school called the Career Assessment Inventory and scored “very high” for jobs that value artistic characteristics and enterprising tendencies.
What’s more, Tom has spent about 1,500 hours at home since December without incident.
Both the career assessment and time spent home are important because they contradict the picture painted of Tom by those seemingly intent on keeping him trapped in a system the family feels has mostly failed Tom and delayed his recovery at least one year.
But a few good things have come from Tom being trapped.
“First, what’s happened in the last year has drawn our family and friends closer than ever,” says Anand Sadashivan. “And Tom has been tested in ways – and successfully endured – many things that would push the limits of a lot of people without injuries.”
And there’s one more thing: After learning how Michigan’s guardianship system can so negatively impact an individual and everyone that person is close to, Tom and his family are intent on bringing attention to the need to change Michigan’s system for the better.
Similar changes have already been undertaken or are being considered in Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
But perhaps change is needed nowhere more than in Michigan, where that state’s no-fault insurance law provides unlimited funding for victims of catastrophic accidents like Tom’s – effectively giving guardians a blank check from an unlimited source without checks-and-balances in place to make sure abuse is avoided.
Tom Nithyanand lives in Farmington Hills, Mich. with his father (Anand), step-mother, and toddler sister.
On June 26, 2010, Tom, then 17, was walking home from a friend’s house and struck by a car. The injuries sustained confined him to hospitals for several months, but by the end of 2010 he was home recovering with his family.
Anand, a management analyst, dedicated his life to making sure his son recovered – taking him to physical, speech, and occupational therapy appointments throughout metro Detroit.
Typical of such accidents, the family received an insurance settlement through the driver of the vehicle that hit Tom. The family does not wish to discuss the amount.
Until early 2014 – and as Anand dealt with filing the proper paperwork relating to his immigration status in the U.S. – the money was held by the family’s attorney who had been dealing with court proceedings relating directly to the accident.
Anand is not a U.S. citizen. As a result, the family sought out a court-appointed co-guardian/conservator to legally manage the insurance money Tom received from his near-death experience.
Upon recommendation, Anand met with Steve (Steven) Siporin who – along with disclosing he had about 140 wards – promised to help the family. The idea, Anand says, was that everyone would work together for the benefit of Tom’s continued recovery.
Siporin met with Anand and Tom two times before being appointed co-guardian (with Anand)/conservator by the court in early 2014. He ensured them he would work with them and foster Tom’s continued recovery – take good care of him and manage the situation.
One day last June, Tom and Anand got into a verbal argument over spending money for an evening Tom had planned with friends – a typical argument for young adults and parents.
Tom mentioned the yelling argument to his case manager who was working close with Siporin, still co-guardian at the time. Full five days later representatives of Siporin showed up with court authorization that made him temporary full guardian and authorized him to rip Tom away from his home and take him to Rainbow Rehabilitation of Farmington Hills, Mich.
On July 23, Siporin managed to convince the court he should be sole guardian of Tom – cutting Tom’s father out of any decisions relating to Tom’s medical and financial activities.
The only legal recourse for Tom and family – immigrants from India with zero legal experience or knowledge of probate court – was to petition the Oakland County Probate Court to remove Siporin as guardian. The family’s former attorney – Jeffrey A. Green – quit just weeks before the petition was to be considered in court, leaving Tom’s family with no choice but to withdraw the petition on May 4 – for now.
“To give you an idea of what we face, consider what Mr. Siporin said to me in the hallways of the Oakland County courthouse that day,” says Anand. “I asked him to work with me on getting Tom to come home for good – he said it was not possible to work with me as I have said a lot of things about him.’”
One Year Gone
Between July and December 2014, Tom could not leave Rainbow Rehabilitation of Farmington Hills. The out-patient therapies he enjoyed and seemed to help his recovery – like art and music therapy – were cut off by Siporin.
At the same time, he had to endure indignities. For example, there was a time when the bathroom near his room was being redone and dust was filling Tom’s room. Anand bought his son a mask. The solution by staff was to tape a piece of paper over an air duct.
“Yet, he somehow doesn’t let it get to him,” says Anand. “He comes home, talks about it, and we look to the future and a day when this wrong is corrected.”
Tom has spent a few week-long holidays away from Rainbow Rehabilitation of Farmington Hills and goes home on weekends. Since he started being allowed to go home for brief periods, Anand estimates Tom has been home about 1,500 hours. Tom’s family has not asked for one cent to care and provide for their son.
Despite that, Anand says much of the legal focus on the part of Siporin against the family seems to be on any money that the family would be due through taking care of Tom – with the continual insinuation that the family somehow doesn’t have rights to the money they are entitled to through Michigan’s no-fault insurance law, which provides for unlimited funding for the care of those who endure catastrophic injuries.
Yet for everyday that Tom remains a ward of Siporin through the guardianship, Siporin and everyone else associated with Tom’s case – including some who have recently been in bankruptcy, according to court records – get paid.
It appears that the only way such cases get attention is when insurance companies pay closer attention.
State Farm, for example, filed a suit in March against a group of defendants working together to bilk the system for what it alleges are, among other things, unnecessary treatments.
Unlike Tom’s case, it is unknown if anyone related to these two cases have had documented financial issues, such as bankruptcy.
“When I look at how well Tom does on everything from computer research to his recent Career Assessment Inventory, it does raise the question of what services are unnecessary in Tom’s case,” says Anand. “However, as someone who is not an expert in the field, all I can do is give the insurance company involved in Tom’s case a head’s up and let them figure it out.”
Not hard to figure out, however, is the extent to which Siporin will go to keep Tom in the system, especially when it comes to Tom’s family. Among other actions, Siporin has:
- Asked Oakland County Probate Court Judge Kathleen Ryan for a ruling that would have prevented Anand from re-petitioning the court to remove Siporin as guardian.
- Last July, court transcripts show that Siporin told Judge Ryan – under oath – that Tom’s attendance record at school before being taken away was 20 percent. Anand has documentation that the attendance rate was 68 percent.
- Accused Anand of being an alcoholic, despite no evidence other than a letter dated April 2015 from the director of Rainbow Rehabilitation of Farmington Hills alleging to recall a 2010 incident – a full five years ago – in which she thought she smelled alcohol on Anand’s breath.
- Accused Anand of “allegedly” being abusive, relying on the verbal spat over spending money from a year ago as proof.
- Accused Anand of illegally having a Michigan driver’s license and telling Rainbow Rehabilitation of Farmington Hills that he could not pick up and drop off his son because his license is invalid, effectively giving himself the power of Michigan’s Secretary of State.
- Accused Tom’s family of using Tom’s injury as a money grab and way to earn a living.
School’s Out, But Tom is Not…
Tom is done with school for the year. He did well in both school and on the Career Assessment Inventory. Again, there have been no issues during the nearly 2,000 hours he’s spent at home on weekends and holidays since December 2014.
His daily schedule for the summer – during the roughly 100 hours a week he must spend at Rainbow Rehabilitation of Farmington Hills – has him in physical, occupational, speech therapy about two hours a day.
That means the majority of Tom’s time this summer – roughly 90 hours a week – will be spent sitting at Rainbow Rehabilitation waiting for his next therapy appointment while Rainbow Rehabilitation of Farmington Hills and everyone else can bill the insurance for that waiting time.
If the family had its way, however, Tom would take golf lessons (Anand took him to one already a couple of weeks ago and Tom says he liked it), take a public speaking course, be in swim therapy, and get back on track with music and art therapy – all while ensuring Tom continued with his normal physical, occupational, and speech therapies. Of course, Tom would also get to spend time with his little sister, too.
“It doesn’t make sense that Tom is being treated like a prisoner,” says Anand. “But Michigan’s guardianship system allows for this to happen. That’s why we are so intent about bringing attention to and changing the system.”
Full Article & Source:
One Year Gone: Metro Detroit Man Loses a Year Trapped in System; Highlights Potential for Abuse of Michigan Guardianship Laws