Court of Appeals Finds Plaintiff Can Proceed with Pain and Suffering Claim

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Michigan Car Accident Law – Court of Appeals Finds Plaintiff Can Proceed with Pain and Suffering Claim

The Michigan Court of Appeals decided a case involving a claim for pain and suffering following a Michigan car accident. The plaintiff claimed compensation for serious injuries after two Michigan car wrecks. The trial judge dismissed her case, stating she was not injured enough under the law to get money compensation. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, allowing her case to be heard by a jury.

In Jackson v. Berens, the plaintiff was injured in two separate Michigan car accidents. The first car accident occurred on January 31, 2013 and the second was on August 20, 2013. After both accidents, Ms. Jackson underwent treatments for injury to her low back and spine.

She eventually underwent spine surgery in 2014 and was unable to perform some of her normal activities, including walking 5 miles per day, gardening, using a computer and attending church.

Ms. Jackson filed a lawsuit against the drivers of both car accidents, claiming compensation for pain and suffering.

Under Michigan law, an individual can only obtain non-economic pain and suffering compensation if they have a “threshold” injury. A threshold injury usually requires the plaintiff to provide he or she suffered a “serious impairment of a body function” caused by the defendant’s ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle. MCL 500.3135(1).

A serious impairment of body function requires (1) an objectively manifested impairment, (2) of an important body function that (3) affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.

The defendants in this case filed motions asking the trial court to dismiss Ms. Jackson’s case because she did not meet the serious impairment of body function threshold. The trial judge agreed and dismissed her case, despite the fact she had low back surgery as a result of the car accidents.

Ms. Jackson appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, who reversed the trial judge’s ruling and allowed her case to go before a jury.

In making its decision, the Court of Appeals relied upon the Michigan Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling, McCormick v. Carrier, 487 Mich 180 (2010).

According to McCormick, to prove a car accident affects a person’s general ability to lead a normal life, the person’s life need only be “affected, not destroyed.” This means the person does not have to have permanent injuries. Second, there is no qualitative minimum as to the percentage of a person’s normal manner of living that must be affected.

Last, although temporal considerations are relevant, there is no express temporal or time requirement regarding how long an impairment must last to constitute a threshold injury.

In looking at the facts of Ms. Jackson’s case and applying the McCormick rationale, the Court of Appeals held that Ms. Jackson did provide enough evidence for a jury to determine whether or not she sustained a threshold injury.

First, following the first accident, Ms. Jackson underwent an MRI, which showed injuries to her lumbar spine at L5-S1. Although these injuries were partly degenerative in nature, she was healthy and asymptomatic before the car accident. After the accident, she had significant pain and couldn’t perform her normal activities, including walking 5 miles per day, gardening and attending church. As result, she demonstrated an injury that had some effect on her general ability to lead a normal life.

As for the second accident, there was evidence that Ms. Jackson had recovered or at least shown significant improvement between the first and second accident. She testified that she felt wonderful at the time of the second accident and had resumed many of her normal activities. However, after the second car accident, she had increased pain and underwent a back surgery. Again, she was unable to perform normal activities.

Given this reality, and the fact a plaintiff like Ms. Jackson can establish an injury and receive compensation for the aggravation or exacerbation of a preexisting condition, it was for a jury not the trial judge to decide whether or not she could receive pain and suffering compensation.

This case illustrates the importance of the 2010 McCormick and its effect on Michigan car accident law. Prior to the McCormick decision, despite the fact she underwent a low back surgery due to the car accidents, Ms. Jackson may not have been able to receive any compensation for her injuries.

The old law required almost permanent injuries that completely changed the person’s life. It resulted in extreme situations where people with horrible injuries could not get compensated due to the negligence of another person.

Thankfully, this Court of Appeals panel understood the rationale set forth in McCormick and corrected a wrong decision handed down by the trial judge.