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Michigan Car Accident Injury Cases: The Important Body Function Requirement

Michigan car accident lawyers must satisfy three requirements in order to help car accident victims be compensated in tort for their accident related injuries. The first is that car accident victims suffer an objectively manifested impairment. The second is that the body function impaired by the car accident be to an “important body function”. The third prong of Michigan’s third party auto negligence threshold law requires the car accident victim be able to show a significant lifestyle impact.

The following information has been prepared by Michigan car accident lawyers to assist personal injury attorneys in achieving the best possible result for auto accident victims.

Section 3135(5) provides the Michigan statutory definition of serious impairment in car accident personal injury cases. And it is this definition where the requirement that the body function impaired be an important body function is found. This requirement was initially imposed by the Cassidy decision. The DiFranco court later rejected this important body function
requirement. The requirement was then resurrected, and that portion of DiFranco legislatively overruled by 1995 PA 222. Thus, trial courts in Michigan deciding automobile accident personal injury cases will today decide what is and is not an important body function as a matter of law before a car accident injury victim can be awarded compensation for personal injuries he or she sustained in a car accident.

Significantly, the Committee notes to M Civ JI 36.11 of Michigan’s Model Civil Jury Instructions (as amended in June 2011) – which defines “serious impairment of body function” – explain that “[i]f the trial courts makes any preliminary rulings as a matter of law in the plaintiff’s favor, e.g., that a body function is ‘important,’ this instruction must be modified accordingly.”

The following are some of the Michigan third party auto negligence cases that have already held as a matter of law that the injury claimed in the underlying lawsuit involved important body functions. As the Michigan Supreme Court has indicated that the Michigan legislature largely intended to restrict tort recovery in car accidents in Michigan by resurrecting Cassidy, the older Cassidy v. McGovern era auto negligence jurisprudence on what injuries are an important body function arguably remain good law today for Michigan lawyers.

These cases include:

  1. Cassidy v McGovern, 415 Mich 483, 330 NW2d 22, 30 (1982) “Walking is an important body function.”
  2. Meklir v Bingham, 147 Mich App 716, 383 NW2d 95, 98 (1985) “We do not doubt that the ability to move one’s back is an important body function.”
  3. Meklir, supra, at p 98 “We would also agree that movement of one’s neck and hand are also important body functions.”
  4. Kanaziz v Rounds, 153 Mich App 180, 395 NW2d 278, 280 (1986): “We agree with plaintiff that the correct functioning of the heart is an important body function.” (Her contusion demonstrated by an irregular electrocardiogram following plaintiff’s trauma with a steering wheel.)
  5. Sherell v Bugaski, 140 Mich App 708,364 NW2d 684 (1984) Where a back injury and the absence of a normal spinal curvature “does impair important body functions.”
  6. Range v Gorosh , 140 Mich App 712, 364 NW2d 686, 689 (1984) (after remand): “Breathing is an important body function”. (Plaintiff suffered fractured ribs and a fractured clavicle).
  7. Harris v Lemicex , 152 Mich App 149, 393 NW2d 554, 560 (1986): “In the instant case, we find that plaintiff’s ability to move her back is an important body function”. (A diagnosis was made by a chiropractor of a low back strain with myofascitis.)
  8. Argenta v Shahan , supra , which is now the law: “It is obvious that plaintiff’s ability to his back is an important body function.”
  9. McCormick v. Carrier, 487 Mich. 180 (2010): The majority held 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.”

Under these cases, the ability to walk, use one’s legs, use one’s hands, one’s neck, mid-neck, back or chest in breathing are all important body functions.

It should be further noted that as of this writing, there has not been one case in Michigan, published or unpublished, that has found that an injured part of a person’s body failed to be an important body function. Indeed, almost all of the auto accident cases that have failed to survive defense lawyer motions for summary disposition on serious impairment of body function as a matter of law have usually involved the third requirement under Michigan threshold law: that the injury affect the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.