Lawyers who handle Michigan car accident cases must have a firm handle of the intricacies of the Michigan no-fault law. The law does provide for certain benefits from an insurance company that other states do not offer. These personal injury protection (PIP) benefits can include the payment of medical bills, lost wages and other benefits.
However, what the one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away. And in Michigan getting pain and suffering compensation following a car wreck caused by another person is not guaranteed or easy. There are certain requirements injured individuals must follow and hurdles they must over come. This reality was explored in a new Michigan Court of Appeals case.
In Brown v. Debassige, (docket no. 350972, unpublished 12/22/2020) a man drove through the front of the plaintiff’s house in Ingham County, causing the front door to fall on top of the plaintiff, injuring her. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit for pain and suffering against the at-fault driver.
Following the crash, the plaintiff went to the emergency room complaining of a neck pain, as well as contusions in her hip, rib, foot and shoulder. She went for physical therapy for a few months. Two years later, the plaintiff still had severe low back pain and shoulder pain. She also had a limited range of motion that interfered with her ability to perform certain activities.
The plaintiff did not miss any work from the car accident, but only because her employer could accommodate her restrictions. In her deposition, she testified that the accident significantly limited her ability to swim and walk, prevented her from riding a motorcycle, and reduced her camping trips.
Even though he was at fault for injuring the plaintiff, the defendant filed a motion with the trial court to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit, arguing she did not sustain a “serious impairment of body function.” Under Michigan law, specifically MCL 500.3135, to obtain compensation for pain and suffering following an auto accident, the plaintiff must demonstrate he or she has a “threshold injury.” There are three types of threshold injuries – (1) death, (2) permanent, serious disfigurement and (3) serious impairment of body function. The most common type of threshold injury is “serious impairment” and has involved tons of litigation over the last 40 years in Michigan.
To establish a serious impairment of body function the plaintiff must show (1) an objectively manifested impairment (2) of an important body function that (3) affects the person’s general ability to lead a normal life. MCL 500.3135(5).
In this case, the defendant argued the plaintiff failed to show the auto accident affected her ability to lead her normal life. The trial judge agreed and dismissed the case. The plaintiff appealed.
In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals reversed. In doing so, the Court analyzed the statute that defines what makes up a serious impairment of body function, as well as the seminal case that addresses Michigan car accident cases, McCormick v. Carrier, 487 Mich 180 (2010).
The Court reviewed the McCormick decision, and noted several important principles to follow when looking at a plaintiff making a case for compensation from a car accident.
First, the plaintiff only has to show his or her “general ability to lead a normal life has been affected, not destroyed.”
Second, a plaintiff must only show that some of his or her “ability to live in his or her normal manner of living has been affected, not that some of the person’s normal manner of living has itself been affected.”
Third, there is no “express temporal requirement as to how long an impairment must last to have an effect on the person’s general ability to live his or her normal life.”
In analyzing the facts of this case, the Court found the plaintiff established enough evidence to show she sustained a “serious impairment” and therefore could forward with her case. The plaintiff testified that as a result of the car accident, she was prevented from performing some of her duties as a janitor. She also went camping less frequently, and when she did go camping she could no longer walk around or serve food like she used to. She also testified that she could no longer ride her motorcycle, walk her dog, take walks without experiencing leg problems or swim.
The plaintiff’s medical records also explained she had limitations in her social life, ability to perform household chores and trouble sleeping. One of her treating doctor’s completed a disability certificate that stated she required help with some activities of daily life for at least two hours a day.
The Court also highlighted that although a treating doctor did not restrict her activities, this was formal declaration by a medical professional was not required to demonstrate a threshold injury.
Taking together, the Court found the plaintiff presented evidence that established a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether her injuries affected her general ability to lead her normal life. Therefore, the trial court’s decision to dismiss her case was reversed.
This decision highlights some of the things a plaintiff must demonstrate to move forward with a case for pain and suffering compensation in Michigan. Although the threshold is not extremely high, just because you are involved or even injured in a car wreck in Michigan does not mean you are entitled to compensation.
Instead, a claimant must show the car accident generally affected his or her ability lead a normal life. And this can only be done through medical treatment and testimony that highlights the limitations and restrictions a plaintiff suffers from following the car accident.
A few days of missed work and some pain pills is not enough. The plaintiff must prove he or she has had their life affected in some way due to an impairment caused by the accident. And the impairment must affect the ability to complete hobbies or recreational activities, or make it difficult in completing basic household tasks.
The Brown case is a good decision for injured individuals throughout Michigan who wish to pursue compensation for their injuries. Car accident lawyers in Michigan can use this case to argue to trial judges, defense attorneys and insurance companies their clients are entitled to compensation.
If you have any questions following a Michigan auto accident, call the Michigan auto accident lawyers at the Lee Steinberg Law Firm at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733).
Our dedicated team of Michigan car accident lawyers can answer your questions and we can help you obtain compensation and other damages for your injuries. The phone call is free and we never charge a penny until we win your case.