In yesterday's blog, I discussed the new Michigan Supreme Court opinion in the case of McCormick v Carrier that was filed last Sunday. You may recall that Rodney McCormick was run over by a
truck and suffered a fractured ankle that caused him to be non-weight bearing for one month, required two surgeries, several months of physical therapy, a cessation of recreational activities and required him to be out of work for 19 months. McCormick sued the driver that negligently ran him over seeking compensation for what they call "noneconomic damages," the pain and suffering he endured, etc. Despite the severity of his
injuries, the judge threw his case out of court indicating that his injuries did not meet the "serious impairment" threshold. The Court of Appeals agreed with the court judge and the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to review the case. Given the severity of his injuries, how could his case been thrown out? A review of the history of the no-fault insurance law may help answer this question.
In 1973, the Michigan Legislature adopted the no-fault insurance act which limited the situations in which an injured person could sue an at-fault driver for non-economic damages. Essentially, an at-fault driver could be held liable if the injured person 1) died; 2) suffered permanent serious disfigurement; or 3) serious impairment of body function. The no-fault insurance act did not define "serious impairment of body function" and subsequently, various Michigan Supreme Court cases defined it differently depending upon who sat on the bench at the time.
In 1995 the conservative Legislature amended the no-fault insurance act to include a definition for "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." The Legislature also indicated that the determination of whether a person's injury meets the "serious impairment" threshold must be determined by the judge in the case, not the jury, unless there is a factual dispute regarding the nature and extent of injury and the dispute is relevant to deciding whether the standard is met.
In 2004, a conservative Supreme Court interpreted the no-fault insurance act, particularly the definition of "serious impairment" in the Kreiner case, discussed in yesterday's blog. The Supreme Court in
Kreiner added language and restrictions to the definition of "serious impairment" that were never in the definition set forth by the Legislature. The
Kreiner Court essentially added language that required the injuries to change the trajectory of the person's entire life, essentially requiring permanency in nature, in order for a person to recover from an at-fault driver. The effect of the
Kreiner case was that if persons suffered horrific injuries at the hand of an at-fault driver but then recovered sufficiently to resume aspects of their life, they would be prohibited from seeking redress in the courts. This is what happened in McCormick. Mr. McCormick was eventually able to return to work and return to his pre-accident recreational activities and following the
Kreiner ruling, his case was thrown out.
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