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Justice Corrigan Fails Children Injured in Car Accidents

January 4, 2008 by Steven M. Gursten

I was surprised by the recent editorial by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan that appeared in the Detroit Free Press on December 19, 2007. Justice Corrigan wrote about her efforts in protecting children. I note Justice Corrigan chose to ignore her own role in the Cameron case from last year in her article. For Michigan lawyers already familiar with Cameron, and for those lawyers representing children injured in car accidents throughout Michigan, it seems that Justice Corrigan’s notion of protecting children does not extend to protecting children who suffer serious injury in automobile accidents in this state. The Cameron decision has and will continue to negatively impact the lives of thousands of children.

Justice Corrigan helped write, and signed onto, the majority opinion in Cameron v. ACIA, 476 Mich 55 (2006). In Cameron, the Michigan Supreme Court stripped away critical legal protections for children injured in accidents. Justice Corrigan ruled that Michigan’s no fault “one year back rule” cannot be tolled for both minor children and for the legally incompetent, such as people incapacitated due to traumatic brain injury. As a result of Corrigan’s decision, a four year old child injured in a car accident in Michigan is now treated the same way as an adult when complying with the one year back rule of the Michigan No Fault Act. A person rendered legally incompetent due to a traumatic brain injury or other incapacity has the same obligation, even if they cannot understand the legal requirements. It is an insane opinion that changed 26 years of Michigan law and now holds young injured children to the same legal standard as competent adults.

Clearly, Justice Corrigan is not the “children’s champion” that both she and her re-election campaign portray her as.

The tragic fact is that these vulnerable accident victims were always protected under Michigan law until last year. Justice Corrigan changed that and exposed children to dangerous legal consequences. The Cameron decision overturns Michigan law which stood in place since 1982, when another, less partisan Michigan Supreme Court made clear that the public policy of our state was to protect children (see Geiger v. Detroit Automobile Inter-Insurance Exchange); ironically, Geiger was a case involving the same insurance company (AAA) as the Cameron case 26 years later. Before being overturned in 2006 with Cameron, the Michigan Supreme Court in Geiger wrote that there was a clear legislative intent to protect and preserve a legal cause of action for children and those legally incompetent who are injured in car accidents. The Geiger Court also held that claims for no fault expenses incurred on behalf of an injured child should be tolled and thus protected against the strict one year statute of limitations.

Apparently not constrained by prior (and binding) Supreme Court precedent in this state, the four justice majority behind Cameron has now changed all that, overturning Geiger. As a result of her opinion, Justice Corrigan has helped to distinguish Michigan as the only state that chooses to expose its minor children and legal incompetents to personal liability for medical bills and other expenses resulting from automobile accidents. The decision now allows Michigan insurance companies to avoid making payments that these insurance companies were otherwise legally obligated to pay under the old law.

Justice Corrigan wrote about “failing children a second time” in her editorial last week. Yet it was Justice Corrigan who has failed these children a second time, by requiring children already hurt in car accidents to now assume the same strict requirements as competent adults, and exposing these children and families to thousands of dollars in time-barred medical expenses.

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