A Flow Chart Guide to Michigan’s Car Accident Threshold Law
Last week, when I blogged about the Michigan Supreme Court’s 2004 Kreiner v. Fischer decision — the case that has ravaged the rights of car accident and truck accident victims in Michigan — I received a request asking if I could specifically explain Kreiner, which sets forth Michigan’s auto accident threshold law. Here’s a flow chart I use when leading seminars for Michigan lawyers on the state’s automobile accident threshold law, and when teaching the third-party no-fault class at Cooley Law School every year with Professor Borin. You can click on it to view an enlarged version.
Kreiner itself is a lengthy and sometimes very confusing 64-page decision that interpreted the no-fault act’s “serious impairment of body function” statute. It establishes the precondition plaintiffs must meet before they can sue for non-economic damages in such a way that many people who suffered serious injuries and who missed months from work, have virtually zero rights.
Kreiner includes many footnotes and judicially created requirements for accident victims found nowhere in the statute as well as a stinging dissent accusing the four-justice majority of judicial extremism and overreaching. When reading this difficult decision, it’s easy to lose sight of the exact requirements that car accident victims must meet in order to have a “good” auto accident case in Michigan.
Serious Impairment of Body Function 101
There are three requirements that anyone who has been injured in a car accident in Michigan must meet to make a case. These requirements in the definition of serious impairment of body function are defined by the Michigan Legislature in MCL 500.3135(7). The definition of a serious impairment of body function is: “… an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.”
Auto accident lawyers in Michigan must therefore be able to prove the following three separate requirements in order to receive non-economic pain and suffering damages:
Objective manifestation — An impairment must be objectively manifested. The standard jury instruction for Michigan auto negligence cases incorporates the Michigan Supreme Court’s 1986 definition of objectively manifested impairment found in the DiFranco decision. It states: In order for an impairment to be objectively manifested, there must be a medically identifiable injury or condition that has a physical basis.
Important body function — The body function impaired by the car accident must be an “important body function.” Michigan standard jury instructions include a parenthetical instruction on what is or is not an “important body function.” Many Michigan cases have already held as a matter of law that the ability to walk, use one’s hands, neck, back, and breathe as important body functions. A broken pinkie finger may or may not be important, depending on if you are a lawyer or a professional violinist. The finding of an important body function is based upon the person injured.
Lifestyle impact — The car accident victim must be able to show a lifestyle impact, meaning an injury suffered in a car accident needs to affect a person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life. Lifestyle impact is the most litigated and controversial requirement to meet serious impairment of body function under Kreiner v. Fischer.
Kreiner’s Devastating Impact Upon Car Accident Lawyers and Accident Victims
To illustrate how automobile accident victims have been ravaged by Kreiner, Michigan Lawyers Weekly recently reported that in 140 of the first 165 unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals decisions that followed Kreiner, plaintiffs had their car accident injury cases dismissed. These were people who in many cases suffered very serious injuries, including fractures and broken bones. Some of these people also missed weeks and even months from work.
Still, the car accident lawyers of Michigan Auto Law were recently the subjects of two special in-depth articles by both Forbes magazine and Michigan Lawyers Weekly. The stories covered how our lawyers are adapting to Michigan’s tough auto accident threshold laws — and why our clients are succeeding at a time when most Michigan residents injured in automobile accidents are being thrown out of court after Kreiner.
Read my blog on the new Michigan Supreme Court to see how Kreiner may hopefully be overturned in the near future, thus restoring some sense of fairness and common sense to Michigan’s car accident threshold law.
Meanwhile, if you have any questions about Kreiner, or Michigan’s complicated auto accident threshold laws, please don’t hesitate to give us your feedback by making a comment below or filling out our lawyer contact form to the right.
Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Southfield, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights. Call for a free consultation with an auto accident lawyer.
- Steve Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top experts in serious car and truck accident injury cases and automobile insurance no-fault litigation. Steve has received the largest jury verdict for an automobile accident case in Michigan in four of the past seven years, including 2008.