Michigan Appeals Court Reverses Grant of Summary Disposition to Defendant in No Fault Act Lawsuit

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently reversed the order of summary disposition granted to a defendant driver and Progressive Insurance in an action for third-party no-fault benefits following a car accident.

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On May 9, 2011, in the City of Bingham Farms, the plaintiff was driving southbound on Telegraph Road when he was struck by the defendant, whose vehicle “entered the wrong turnaround on Telegraph Road,” “failed to yield to oncoming traffic,” drove in front of the plaintiff’s vehicle, and caused a collision. The plaintiff, with his wife, filed a three-count complaint on May 9, 2014 against the driver and Progressive jointly and severally, alleging claims of negligence, underinsured motorist coverage, and loss of consortium resulting from the May 9, 2011 motor vehicle accident. Both defendants answered the complaint, and discovery ensued. Motions for summary disposition followed.

The driver filed for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10). He argued that summary disposition was appropriate because the plaintiffs could not show that the victim suffered “a serious impairment, to wit, an objectively manifested injury or impairment” “that affects his general ability to lead his normal life” as required under MCL 500.3135, since all objective tests of his head, spine, and shoulder were negative for injury. The plaintiffs’ response argued that the victim’s MRIs, showing disc bulges in his lumbar and cervical spine, were objective evidence of his complaints of continued back and neck pain. After a hearing on the motion, the trial court granted summary disposition to the driver. The court held that the evidence submitted by the plaintiffs did not establish that the victim suffered injuries caused by the accident. The court reviewed MRIs of the victim’s brain taken directly after the accident that showed his brain to be normal. The court also considered the MRIs of the victim’s spine but noted that the images were taken a year after the accident. It found that his complaints of pain were subjective. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the injuries were linked to the motor vehicle accident. The plaintiffs filed for reconsideration and were denied.

Two months later, Progressive filed for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) and (C)(10). Progressive argued that the trial court correctly found previously, in deciding the driver’s motion for summary disposition, that the victim did not show an objective manifestation of any injury. Progressive asserted that “[t]he effect of [the trial court’s] granting of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Disposition was that it also eliminated any possibility for Underinsured Motorist coverage as no payment can ever be made under the bodily injury liability policy.” At the hearing on Progressive’s motion, the plaintiffs continued to argue that the trial court’s previous decision in favor of the driver was an error. The lower court decided that since it already ruled on serious impairment issues, there was no need for a trial regarding the underinsured motorist claim, and it dismissed the plaintiffs’ case against Progressive. The plaintiffs did not seek reconsideration of that order.

The appeals court first explained that pursuant to MCL 500.3135 of the No Fault Act, in order to establish tort liability for noneconomic loss resulting from a motor vehicle accident, an injured person must have “suffered death, serious impairment of body function, or permanent serious disfigurement.” In this case, the victim claimed to have suffered a serious impairment of body function. “Serious impairment of body function” is defined to mean “an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.”

The appeals court concluded that the trial court erred when it decided as a matter of law that no factual dispute existed as to the nature and the extent of the victim’s injuries. The lower court correctly noted that to establish an objectively manifested impairment, the “plaintiffs must introduce evidence establishing that there is a physical basis for their subjective complaints of pain and suffering.” The trial court was incorrect, however, to hold that the plaintiffs were not able to show the threshold injury required for a claim under MCL 500.3135. The plaintiffs offered documented manifestations of the victim’s subjective symptoms through medical records that traced the victim’s symptoms and treatment from the time of the accident in 2011 through 2014. The plaintiffs also offered objective manifestations of a serious impairment through MRIs of the victim’s cervical and lumbar spine.

By way of deposition testimony, the appeals court reasoned, the plaintiffs presented evidence that the victim’s general ability to lead his normal life was affected in such a way that his life is different since the accident. The victim testified that before the accident, he played basketball and soccer twice a week at neighboring parks with his family and friends. He bowled in the winter. After the accident, the victim indicated that his current activities were “watching television, listening to music, performing limited housework tasks, socializing with family and friends, attending physical therapy, and walking.” Comparatively, his activities were more sedentary after the accident. He reported that since the accident, he tried to work part time but was not able to continue. He could not lift heavy items anymore. He also reported that while he was independent with self-care, he sometimes needed help dressing. He was able to do some cooking, use the telephone, help his wife watch their children, and drive “when necessary (but not alone).” While this evidence is not overwhelming, it did support that his claimed manifested impairments affected his “general ability to lead his or her normal life.”

The appeals court concluded that since the plaintiffs presented questions of fact concerning whether the victim’s current injury met the statutory threshold for a serious impairment of a bodily function under MCL 500.3135, whether any such serious impairment was caused by the accident, and whether his general ability to lead a normal life was affected by the accident, summary disposition in favor of the defendants was an error.

Finally, since the trial court’s disposition of the plaintiffs’ claims against Progressive was derived from its disposition of the plaintiffs’ claims against the driver, and the court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary disposition to the driver, the plaintiffs’ claims against Progressive had to be reconsidered.

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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