Under Michigan law, a person can get pain and suffering compensation if the driver was at least 50% at-fault for causing the crash. However, there are certain requirements the injured person must meet.
To obtain compensation for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, a person must prove he or she sustained a “threshold injury.” There are three different threshold injuries: (1) death, (2) permanent, serious disfigurement, and (3) serious impairment of body function.
Fisher v. Blankenship, 286 Mich. App. 54; 777 N.W.2d 469 (2009) is one of the few times Michigan appellate courts have evaluated what constitutes a permanent, serious disfigurement.
Facts of the Case:
The plaintiff was involved in a rear-end car accident. The impact of the crash caused the plaintiff’s mouth and nose to strike the steering wheel. As a result, he lost his front tooth and had it replaced with an implant and crown. The accident also accelerated the plaintiff’s need for dentures. He eventually had all his top front teeth extracted, replacing 14 teeth with a partial upper denture.
The plaintiff sued the defendant driver and the owner of the at-fault vehicle for his pain and suffering.
Under the plain language of MCL 500.3135(1), in order to meet the disfigurement threshold, a plaintiff must have a disfigurement that is both permanent and serious. To disfigure something is to “mar the appearance or beauty of,” to “deform,” or to “deface.” As a result, the Court found that with regard to a person, a disfigurement is something that mars, deforms, or defaces the person’s appearance.
Further, the disfigurement is permanent if it will exist perpetually or is otherwise “long-lasting,” and will be considered serious if it is “significant” or “not trifling.” Thus, a threshold disfigurement is a long-lasting and significant change that mars or deforms the injured person’s appearance.
The Court also held that in assessing whether a particular change in appearance meets the disfigurement threshold, the determination depends on the physical characteristics of the injury rather than the effect of the injury on the plaintiff’s ability to lead a normal life.
Finally, whether an injury constitutes a serious disfigurement must be determined with regard to the injured person’s appearance while engaged in a “full spectrum” of life activities rather than in an isolated “perusal” of the injured person’s immediate appearance. Consequently, when determining whether a plaintiff has established a threshold disfigurement, courts must objectively examine the physical characteristics of the injury on a case-by-case basis and determine whether, in light of common knowledge and experience and considering the full spectrum of the injured person’s life activities, the injury’s physical characteristics significantly mar or deform the injured person’s overall appearance.
In this case, it was clear the plaintiff’s loss of teeth marred or deformed his overall appearance. Thus, the loss of teeth is a disfigurement. It is also clear that the disfigurement will last for the remainder of his life. Consequently, the plaintiff suffered a permanent disfigurement. The only question is whether the disfigurement is significant enough to be considered “serious” within the meaning of MCL 500.3135(1).
The Court then evaluated how the disfigurement manifests itself to the public. The fact that a disfigurement can be hidden from the public by clothing, an implant or a prothesis does not lessen the seriousness of the injury. As the Court stated:
Whether the disfigurement is serious must be determined with regard to the injury’s physical characteristics under a totality of the circumstances, which necessarily includes those times when the disfigurement is fully exposed to view.
Moreover, a disfigurement’s seriousness is not in any way diminished because the only persons who will see it when fully exposed are the injured person or those persons who are intimately connected to the injured person. A serious disfigurement remains a serious disfigurement even when hidden from the general public.
For those reasons, the Court held that judges and juries must consider the effect of the disfigurement on the injured person’s appearance without the use of devices designed to conceal the disfigurement, such as the dentures in this case.
Result of the Case:
This case is very helpful for injured plaintiffs who have had scarring or other injuries to their appearance. The Court event went out of its way to say that just because a scar can be covered, or a disfigurement hidden, does not mean the person is not entitled to compensation for their injuries.