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What if Nick “Hogan” crashed his Supra in Michigan?

August 5, 2008 by Steven M. Gursten

Nick Bollea, the teenage son of wrestling idol Hulk Hogan and star of VH1 reality show Hogan Knows Best,” is serving eight months in jail on charges of causing a car accident that critically injured his best friend.

Given the tremendous amount of publicity the case has received and my firm’s experience in helping people who have suffered serious personal injury and wrongful death in car accidents and truck accidents throughout Michigan, I’m compelled to inform the public of what results a lawsuit with similar facts would garner accident victims if it happened to occur in Michigan. And it’s not a pretty picture.

Here are some facts of Bollea’s case, according to The Associated Press:
o Authorities say Bollea was street racing a Toyota Supra last August when he struck a curb, spun in traffic and slammed into a palm tree.
o Bollea’s friend John Graziano was not wearing a seat belt and suffered a broken skull and other severe injuries, requiring him lifetime care.
o Bollea had alcohol in his system at the time of the crash.
o Graziano’s family has filed a civil suit against the Hulk and his wife, alleging they are liable for their son’s actions.

Michigan law prevents many plaintiffs from getting fair car accident verdicts and settlements

When comparing Bollea’s accident to those in Michigan, it’s important to understand that Michigan law regarding personal injury and wrongful death from car and truck accidents is the worst in the country for plaintiffs. That’s because the no fault world got turned on its head in 2004, when the Michigan Supreme Court handed residents Kreiner v. Fischer.

In Kreiner, the justices interpreted the Michigan no fault act’s “serious impairment of body function” statute, increasing the threshold plaintiffs must meet before they can sue for non-economic damages. Therefore, Kreiner has made it difficult not only for plaintiffs to win, but to keep their cases in court. Take data gathered by Michigan Lawyers Weekly: Since Kreiner, 189 out of 208 plaintiffs have lost their “serious impairment” cases in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The cases that often fail are those of people who have pain but have not adequately documented their impairments. Often, these clients aim to “do the right thing” and continue providing for their families by returning to work within a few months of being injured.

Now let’s apply Kreiner to the Bollea case. If Graziano, a former Marine who served in Iraq, were to return to military duty soon after the crash, his case would literally be thrown out by the judge, because Michigan courts have held that missing only a few months of work due to injuries is not a sufficient change in the course and trajectory of a person’s life.

Michigan doesn’t award punitive damages to accident victims

Another distinction I’d like to highlight is that Michigan law does not allow for punitive damages or even the request of such a verdict, thanks to tort reform removing them from the our state’s system. (Punitive damages are damages awarded in addition to actual damages when the defendant acted with recklessness, malice, or deceit; as a way of penalizing the defendant or making an example to others.)

Referring again to Bollea’s case, a Florida jury might find that getting boozed up, drag racing and debilitating your friend for life is acting with sufficient recklessness, and award a separate punitive verdict against Bollea to punish and deter such unacceptable conduct.

But in Michigan, Bollea could not be subjected to punitive penalties — even for getting drunk, drag racing and seriously injuring someone.

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