Michigan Appeals Court Holds Trial Court Improperly Granted Summary Judgment to Defendants In Car Accident Case

A man was injured when his truck was struck from behind by a police cruiser driven by the defendant, an employee of Charter Township of Genesee. The plaintiff had been attempting to make a left turn and apparently was using his turn signal when the defendant, who had been following him, attempted to pass him on the left. The defendant moved for summary disposition, arguing that the plaintiff did not sustain a serious impairment of a body function that affected his general ability to live his normal life and that their conduct did not amount to gross negligence. The trial court granted the motion. The appeals court reversed and remanded, finding the trial court’s conclusion that the defendant was not grossly negligent to be unconvincing.

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Pursuant to MCL 691.1407(2), the defendant would be immune from tort liability unless his conduct “amount[ed] to gross negligence that [was] the proximate cause of the injury or damage.” He claimed that he believed the plaintiff was pulling off the road to the right, whereas the plaintiff claimed he had properly activated his left turn signal. Given the critical question of fact, the appeals court could not “conceive of how defendants ha[d] the chutzpah” to contend that the defendant’s conduct was anything but so blatantly reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury would result.

According to the plaintiff’s account, the defendant’s behavior would not be mere incompetent driving; it would border on intentionally causing a crash. The court of appeals expressed no opinion as to whether the defendant actually engaged in such egregious conduct. However, it concluded that summary disposition on the ground that he was not grossly negligent was improper. The Township’s liability would be premised on MCL 619.1405, which requires only ordinary negligence, so summary disposition was improper as to both defendants.

The plaintiff also suffered the requisite level of injury for this case to proceed. Under the no-fault insurance act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., tort liability for non-economic loss is only available, in relevant part, “‘if the injured person has suffered death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.'” MCL 500.3135(5) defines “serious impairment of body function” as “an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.” In the absence of a material factual dispute regarding the nature and extent of the person’s injuries, courts determine whether the injured person has suffered a serious impairment of a body function or a permanent serious disfigurement as a matter of law.

The defendants relied on one statement by the plaintiff that there was little he was technically incapable of doing that he could do prior to the accident, and doing so simply caused him pain. This statement was taken out of context. Generally, “pain and suffering alone” is insufficient without evidence showing some objectively observable cause for that pain. However, as a general matter, parties are entitled to judgments and decisions based on the evidence, notwithstanding any expression of opinion they may have made inconsistent with that evidence to their own detriment.

The record proved that the plaintiff in fact refrained from some activities he enjoyed prior to the accident, ranging from playing hockey to playing with his child, so the appeals court could not conclude that his life was unaffected. The plaintiff also complained that he developed debilitating, severe floaters in his vision. More importantly, the plaintiff also suffered from serious muscle spasms in his lower back, which clearly were objectively manifested.

For these reasons, the appeals court concluded that summary disposition was premature. The court therefore reversed and remanded.

The car accident attorneys at the Neumann Law Group represent injured people throughout Michigan from offices in Traverse City and Grand Rapids. Call us at (231) 463-0122 or at (616) 717-5666 for a free consultation.

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Michigan Appellate Court Rules Question of Whether Dangerous Condition Was Open and Obvious Should Go To Jury, Neumann Law Group, February 2, 2017.

Michigan Jailers Ignore Suicidal Inmate’s Pleas for Help, Neumann Law Group, January 9, 2017.

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