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Impairment Vs. Pain: Michigan Car Accident Attorney Case Study

After suffering personal injuries from a Michigan car accident most people with a strong work ethic still try to go back to work, enduring significant pain relating to accident injuries. Unfortunately, Michigan car accident law requires serious “impairment” not pain to be demonstrated in order to receive compensation for expenses related to car accident injuries. This can make it nearly impossible for honest, legitimate injuries to be covered, as it is very difficult to show “impairment” once they’ve “toughed it out” trying to perform normal work activities.

Here is the official Michigan Court of Appeals order for Spencer v. Weaver.

In addition, the definition of “impairment vs. pain” is not consistently interpreted based on the type of work car accident victims previously performed.

IMPORTANT: Significantly, Spencer was decided before the Michigan Supreme Court decided McCormick v. Carrier in 2010. As such, it’s not known whether and/or to what extent Spencer may have been decidedly differently if the judges had been applying McCormick, rather than Kreiner v. Fischer (which was overruled by McCormick).

Michigan Car Accident Victim

Spencer v. Weaver


July 12, 2005

No. 260226

Ct of Appeals panel J. Cooper, Fort Hood, and R. Gribbs

Michigan Car Accident Attorney Case Studies

Shirley Spencer was a 51 year old housewife. On August 27, 2002 she was riding her bicycle when she was hit by a passing truck, causing her to fall and suffer personal injuries. She suffered a fractured ankle and laceration to her ankle, and unspecified lower back injuries.


After her bicycle accident, Mrs. Spencer used crutches for walking for approximately 2 months. Approximately one year after her bicycle accident, she reported that she suffered no long-term effects from the injury to her ankle other than some swelling when she did “a lot of walking.”

Regarding her lower back injury, she initially received help with all of her household chores for approximately one month following her motor vehicle accident. During this period she could not vacuum, sweep, or mop. By July of 2003 she could return to performing all of these activities. This opinion is not clear what household activities she required help with for one month as versus what activities she was able to return to in July 2003. This suggests that it is at least possible that these household limitations lasted for 11 months.

Sixteen months after being hit by defendant’s truck, Mrs. Spencer testified she could exercise freely, but could not perform jumping jacks or sit-ups. In addition she could resume bowling and riding her bicycle. She estimated her recovery was 95%.

Mrs. Spencer’s bicycle accident injuries were not found sufficiently serious to bring a personal injury lawsuit in Michigan.

The Court of Appeals wrote: “objective medical evidence established that plaintiff suffered multiple injuries from the accident. These injuries arguably affected several of plaintiff’s important body functions. However, even taking as true plaintiff’s assertions about the changes to her life due to these injuries, she has failed to show that the injuries have affected her general ability to lead her normal life. Kreiner v Fischer 471 Mich 109 (2004). Plaintiff’s continued limitations do not rise to the level of having any perceptible effect on her usual activities. Consequently, we find that even when plaintiff’s ankle and back injuries are taken together, plaintiff has not satisfied the “serious impairment of body function” threshold for the recovery of non-economic damages as set forth in MCL 500.3135.”

Suggestions for Michigan Lawyers Handling Car Accident Injury Cases: This case is instructive for Michigan attorneys because it shows how unequally Michigan’s car accident impairment law is applied to different types of people that we may see as clients. In this case, it is clear the plaintiff, being a housewife, was in effect punished because it is far harder to show impairment for her normal life than it would be for other types of clients injured in car accidents, such as those in the workforce. Clearly, our auto law creates a higher burden for people like Mrs. Spencer to be able to show a serious impairment of body function after her truck accident. Michigan’s auto accident law requires impairment, but its application is clearly unequal between those in the workforce as versus those who do not work but choose to stay at home, to children, to those in school, to the unemployed and to those who are already disabled from another accident or injury.

Once again, deposition testimony and statements by the plaintiff to her doctors prove fatal. Plaintiff had apparently estimated her recovery as 95% and that she suffered no long-term effects from her ankle within one year. Clearly, this contradicts other testimony and unfortunately suggests that her lawyer did not prepare her well for her deposition to give a proper history and accurately testify as to the extent of her impairments after her bicycle accident.

Our Courts continue dismiss self-imposed restrictions, with the fictional belief that most doctors will write physician-imposed restrictions.

This was a serious injury case, and certainly the type that our Michigan Legislature contemplated as worthy of non-economic recovery when it passed our threshold law in 1973 and amended the serious impairment definition in 1995. Arguably, it is the type that was also contemplated by our Michigan Supreme Court as worthy of recovery when it wrote that “merely any effect on the plaintiff’s life is insufficient because a de minimus effect would not, as objectively viewed, affect the plaintiff’s general ability to lead a normal life. Kreiner at 133.

Therefore, the lesson for lawyers is that our auto accident threshold law seems to be applied as unevenly as ever, more based upon which judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals a party draws, than upon any uniform application of Michigan law. The finding in Spencer is certainly far different from Luther, Ream, and other cases that have found similar or even less serious injuries sufficiently serious to recover noneconomic damages under Michigan’s car accident injury law.

Our threshold law of serious impairment of body function is now in danger of being misinterpreted as requiring permanent impairments with certain judges in the trial courts and courts of appeal. For Michigan lawyers handling car accident injury cases, the lack of any uniformity in application means it is more difficult than ever to advise injured clients on what may be a successful car accident case and what will not.