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Auto Accident Law

Objective Manifestation Requirement In Michigan Car Accident Injury Cases

Michigan Lawyers seeking to provide the best support for victims of auto accident injuries must clearly understand the definition of objective manifestation. The information below has been prepared by Michigan auto accident attorneys as a resource for lawyers throughout Michigan to ensure the best possible result for car accident victims. Personal injury lawyers that handle auto accident cases must explore any and all medical treatment and testing that might help the victim document and verify injuries resulting from auto accidents and, thus, be best positioned to meet the threshold law’s “objectively manifested impairment” requirement.

Objectively Manifested Impairment

The first of the three requirements under Michigan’s threshold law for noneconomic damages is that an impairment be “objectively manifested.”

Significantly, the meaning of “objectively manifested” in auto accident cases in Michigan has changed considerably throughout the years.

That’s because 1995 PA 222, which created our current “serious impairment of body function” law failed to define “objectively manifested” and, thus, left the task of interpreting and defining this critical term to Michigan’s courts.

Specifically, there were Michigan Supreme Court interpretations in cases like Cassidy and DiFranco before the Legislature enacted Public Act 222 of 1995 and, afterward, there were Michigan Court of Appeals interpretations in cases such as Jackson v. Blaine-Hasson and Netter v. Bowman.

On August 28, 2002, in Jackson v. Blaine-Hasson Lomax (a published case), the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed that the definition of “objective manifestation” comes from the DiFranco definition of medically identifiable. The Jackson court adopted the DiFranco definition as the last word defining objective manifestation.

In 2006, the Michigan Court of Appeals in Netter v. Bowman (a published case) adopted the Jackson Court’s definition of objective manifestation, but then decided to push things even further.

In what many lawyers called a quintessential example of inexcusable “judicial activism,” the Netter court ruled:

“[W]e conclude that the current meaning of ‘objectively manifested’… requires that a plaintiff ‘s injury must be capable of objective verification by a qualified medical person either because the injury is visually apparent or because it is capable of detection through the use of medical testing.” [Emphasis added]

The result was that many deserving car accident victims were denied justice.

Although it took another four years to occur, the wrongs of the Court of Appeals were righted when the Michigan Supreme Court decided McCormick v. Carrier in 2010.

Not only did the justices make clear what “objectively manifested” meant:

“[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.’”

But the justices also clarified (in footnote 11) that the statements in Netter did not comport with what was required under the threshold law:

“[T]he Court of Appeals decisions that have gone beyond the plain language of the statute and imposed an extra-textual ‘objectively manifested injury’ requirement, in clear contravention of Legislative intent [which required an “objectively manifested impairment”], are overruled to the extent that they are inconsistent with this opinion.”

The McCormick ruling also resulted in substantial, long-overdue changes to Michigan’s Model Civil Jury Instruction for the definition of “Serious Impairment of Body Function.”

Before McCormick, the instruction reflected the 1986 Supreme Court ruling in DiFranco in that it stated that “[i]n order for an impairment to be objectively manifested, there must be a medically identifiable injury or condition that has a physical basis.”

In June 2011, that paragraph was deleted from the instruction when M Civ JI 36.11 was amended to reflect the McCormick ruling.

Proving Objective Manifestation for Michigan Lawyers

It is the responsibility of Michigan lawyers handling automobile accident cases to explore all means of medical treatment and medical testing available to help your client document the injuries and impairments from his or her car accident. Regardless of whichever definition of objective manifestation the Courts are currently using – and/or may use in the future – in Michigan, if the goal of the personal injury lawyer is to achieve the most full and fair recovery possible on behalf of an injured client, then all avenues must be explored for documenting and verifying an injured person’s complaints of pain.

Some of the medical testing available for documenting and verifying pain and injury complaints in car accidents include:

  1. MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging;
  2. CT scanning;
  3. EEG’s;
  4. EMG’s;
  5. Spect Scanning;
  6. PET Scanning;
  7. Themography
  8. Dynamic Motion X-rays.

All of these different types of medical testing and documentation should be explored by Michigan lawyers handling automobile accident cases. It is not enough for Michigan attorneys to just rely on the doctor to explore different avenues of medical testing. Michigan, with its unusually harsh and restrictive threshold for recovery in automobile accident cases, demands that more emphasis be placed upon medical documentation of injuries so that the practitioner can survive Motions for Summary Disposition and scrutiny in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Moreover, many people today who are injured in car accidents are participants in different health care plans and organizations and face additional challenges to getting proper medical care and treatment. It is a sad reality that too many doctors who are enrolled as participating physicians in many of these health care plans can only make money by seeing people in volume and many doctors are actually penalized for ordering expensive diagnostic testing in these plans. These health care plans require primary physician referrals at a time when these same plans provide economic disincentives for doctors to send people injured in car accidents out for expensive medical testing such as magnetic resonance imaging.

While an injured person may suffer very serious injuries that will satisfy any future appellate interpretation of what an objective manifestation of injury is (for example a herniated spinal disk or a broken bone) months and years can pass before that car accident victim is referred out for the objective medical testing necessary to document and verify those injuries. In the meantime, the Michigan lawyer is faced with either pursuing a legal case for that person based upon the symptoms of a very real, but undiagnosed injury by focusing on the muscle spasm, lack of range of motion, reversal of the lordotic curvature in an injured person’s back, or other manifestations of the symptoms of an injury, or with the person paying for these diagnostic tests himself or herself to pass the statutory threshold requirement of a serious impairment of body function. This latter action flies in the face of the fundamental scheme of the No-Fault Act, the overriding principle of which is to provide generous medical and loss wage benefits for an injured car accident victim while at the same time imposing restrictions upon an injured person’s ability to sue in tort except for more serious auto accident injuries.