Michigan District Court Allows Injured Driver’s Case Against Federal Government To Move Forward

A plaintiff was stopped on I-94 in Michigan when her vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by an FBI agent. The plaintiff asserted that the impact caused or exacerbated neck and back injuries and sued the federal government pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act. The defendant moved for summary judgment. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted in part and denied in part.In this Michigan car accident case, the district court explained, the accident occurred on a Michigan highway, and therefore, Michigan law governed the court’s determination of liability and damages. Under Michigan’s No-Fault Act, “tort liability for non-economic loss arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of a qualifying motor vehicle is limited to a list of enumerated circumstances.”

The appeals court explained that the defendant discharged their initial summary-judgment burden of showing that the accident was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s spinal issues.

First, it was undisputed that the plaintiff experienced neck and back issues prior to the accident. Second, her post-accident care supported the defendant’s causation position. She did not seek medical attention immediately following the accident, but she did go to the emergency room with neck, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine pain on the following evening. But she also refused pain medication at this time, and the ER doctor noted that while she had some neck tenderness, she had a normal range of motion in her back and musculoskeletal system. Third, the defendant’s experts concluded that the plaintiff’s spinal issues were not caused by the accident.

Since the defendant met their initial summary judgment burden as to causation, the burden then shifted to the plaintiff to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to proximate cause. She presented evidence that prior to the accident, she had no neck pain. And her back pain had been controlled via minimal use of painkillers. But after the accident, she had neck pain and increased back pain. A jury could find that the car accident caused the exacerbation of her back issues or caused her cervical spine issues. Accordingly, the defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on this ground.

The district court next found that the defendant was entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claim for wage loss damages. Pursuant to relevant law, she was required to show that she had wage loss damages “extend[ing] beyond the three-year limit in the no-fault statute,” in this case, beyond February 19, 2017. Since she did not provide such evidence, the district court held that the defendant was entitled to summary judgment on the claim for wage loss damages.

Finally, the defendant argued that the plaintiff’s surgical scars were not “permanent serious disfigurements” that would surpass the No-Fault Act’s threshold to recover noneconomic damages. The district court agreed that the plaintiff’s five-centimeter scar on her neck and scar of indeterminate length on her stomach were “not serious.” Accordingly, the court concluded that her scars were not permanent serious disfigurements as a matter of law.

For these reasons, the court granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s motion.

The car accident attorneys at the Neumann Law Group represent 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.

More Blog Posts:

Michigan Appeals Court Holds Plaintiffs Failed to Establish Design Defect and Failure to Warn in Boating Accident Case, Neumann Law Group, August 16, 2017.

Michigan Woman Molested on Flight Sues Delta, Neumann Law Group, July 20, 2017.

Michigan Appeals Court Holds Plaintiff Failed to Prove Defendant Had Notice of Dangerous Condition in Slip and Fall Case, Neumann Law Group, July 6, 2017.

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