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McCormick v. Carrier

A summary of the Michigan Supreme Court’s second interpretation of the “serious impairment of body function” injury threshold law, 2010

The Michigan Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in McCormick v. Carrier was the Court’s second interpretation of the “serious impairment of body function” injury threshold law, after it was enacted by the Michigan Legislature in 1995 and first interpreted by the Court in Kreiner v. Fischer in 2004.

Here is the official Michigan Supreme Court opinion for McCormick v. Carrier.

The statutory definition of a “serious impairment of body function” is as follows:

“‘[S]erious impairment of body function’ means an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.” (MCL 500.3135(7))

Mark Twain once observed that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. The same may well be said of how Michigan’s car accident injury threshold law. Just as the Michigan Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in DiFranco v. Pickard was a strong rejection of the 1982 decision in Cassidy v. McGovern, McCormick v. Carrier is an stinging rejection of the Kreiner Court’s judicial overreach of the statutory definition of “serious impairment.”

“We hold that Kreiner v. Fischer… was wrongly decided because it departed from the plain language of MCL 500.3135, and is therefore overruled.… Because the Kreiner majority created ambiguity where there was none, and crafted a statutory interpretation that is, in effect, a judicially constructed house of cards, we hold that it incorrectly interpreted the third prong of MCL 500.3135(7). The Kreiner majority aggravated this error, and departed even more dramatically from the statutory text, by providing an extra-textual ‘nonexhaustive list of objective factors’ to be used to compare the plaintiff’s pre- and post-incident lifestyle.… Because the factors adopted by the Kreiner majority are not based in the statutory text, and this Court’s role is to apply the unambiguous statutory language, not improve it, we hold that the majority erred by adopting them.”

Having unequivocally disavowed the Kreiner Court’s interpretation and, many Michigan lawyers would add, the additional judicially-imposed hurdles to recovery such as “physician-imposed restrictions” and “course or trajectory,” the McCormick Court turned once again to the “unambiguous language of MCL 500.3135(7)” for the “three prongs that are necessary to establish a ‘serious impairment of body function'”:

“(1) an objectively manifested impairment (observable or perceivable from actual symptoms or conditions) (2) of an important body function (a body function of value, significance, or consequence to the injured person) that (3) affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life (influences some of the plaintiff’s capacity to live in his or her normal manner of living).”

From there, the McCormick Court explained in greater detail what was required to satisfy each of the three prongs of the “serious impairment of body function” test:

Objectively Manifested Impairment

“[T]he common meaning of ‘objectively manifested’ in MCL 500.3135(7) is an impairment that is evidenced by actual symptoms or conditions that someone other than the injured person would observe or perceive as impairing a body function [“such as walking, crouching, climbing an lifting weight”]. In other words, on ‘objectively manifested’ impairment is commonly understood as one observable or perceivable from actual symptoms or conditions.”

“[W]hile an injury is the actual damage or wound, an impairment generally relates to the effect of that damage,” such as where the body function is “‘weakened, diminished, or damaged'” or the body is “‘functioning poorly or inadequately.'”

“[W]hen considering an ‘impairment,’ the focus ‘is not on the injuries themselves, but how the injuries affected a particular body function.'”

Important Body Function

An impaired body function is “important” for “serious impairment of body function” purposes if it has “great ‘value’, ‘significance,’ or ‘consequence,'” which will “depend[] on the relationship of that function to the person’s life.”

Affects The Person’s General Ability To Lead His Or Her Normal Life

An objectively manifested impairment of an important body function has affected a person’s general ability lead his or her normal life if it has had “an influence on some of the person’s capacity to live in his or her normal [“pre-incident”] manner of living.”

“[A] person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life [must have] been affected, not destroyed.”

“[T]he statute does not create an express temporal requirement as to how long an impairment must last in order to have an effect on the ‘person’s general ability to live his or her normal life.'”

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