How people with significant pre-existing medical conditions and Social Security Disability can still recover after a car accident in Michigan
I am thrilled for Jeff and Lisa Chase. Jeff is my client, and he just achieved an important victory for all auto accident victims with his recent win in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Just as important, his case, Chase v. Pomilia, et al. addresses some of the greatest travesties of justice that have plagued car accident victims under Michigan’s auto law since Kreiner v. Fischer. Hopefully, this new decision can be used by lawyers representing clients who have significant pre-existing medical histories – to help judges understand that a less-than-perfect pre-accident life is still a life of value and worth that is compensable under Michigan’s current threshold law.
This unforgiving current threshold that permeates our auto accident No-Fault laws in Michigan is the result of the Michigan Supreme Court decision of Kreiner v. Fischer. Kreiner made it very difficult (some car accident lawyers would say nearly impossible) for people with very serious injuries to recover pain and suffering damages from a car accident lawsuit. For example, Michigan Lawyers Weekly reported that as of 2008, 189 out of 208 car accident victims have lost their cases in the Court. And of those 208 cases, 193 were appeals from summary disposition motions like this one.
This case is so significant because it shows that with proper documentation of personal injuries, people in Michigan already on Social Security Disability who have significant preexisting medical conditions can still recover from auto accidents.
My client, Jeffrey Chase, was driving in Clinton Township, which is in Macomb County, when the defendant lost control, crossed the center line and struck the driver’s side of Mr. Chase’s vehicle. Mr. Chase suffered injuries including herniated discs and bulging discs in his spine, and a broken collar bone that rendered him unable to walk and later required surgery. Nevertheless, the Macomb County trial court dismissed his case because the defense lawyer pointed out that he had pre-existing medical conditions and had been awarded Social Security Disability before his car accident had ever occurred.
If the defense had won, it would have created an impossible threshold for any Michigan resident – no matter how seriously injured – to reach if that person had any sort of prior significant medical history. Arguably, this effects everyone, not just people on Social Security Disability. It also affects the very young and very old, and those who stay and work in the home.
After all, the defense argument would always be the same: Michigan law requires showing a serious impairment to recover. Serious impairment has been defined as a change in the normal life of a person. This therefore requires an examination into that lifestyle before the motor vehicle accident. If a person is already on medical disability (or is too young, too old or works at home) how is that normal pre-accident life being impaired? For instance, Mr. Chase didn’t work before the accident, and he doesn’t work after the accident. If pain doesn’t count, and if innocence doesn’t count, and if the only thing that counts is showing how that pre-accident life has been seriously impaired; how can he, or anyone like him, ever recover for personal injuries sustained in a car accident under Michigan law?
What the Court of Appeals got right is that the correct legal analysis must be on “his or her normal life” – and then comparing that life to the life that existed prior to the car accident, as they did with Mr. Chase. Yes, Mr. Chase was on medical Social Security Disability, and it is true that he also had significant medical issues before he ever had his car accident. But it was also true that before his car accident, Mr. Chase used to golf, bowl, socialize and take care of many household duties. Following the crash, he was in too much pain and suffering serious depression, and unable to do these activities that constituted his normal life.
That’s the part the trial court judge got wrong. Michigan law does not require a perfect plaintiff. It does not require a person be in perfect medical health to be able to recover pain and suffering damages from a car accident. What it does currently require is a detailed examination into the life of a person before a car accident and a careful comparison of that life after his crash.
I believe Chase v. Pomilia addresses the very heart of fairness and justice under our threshold law. It is an extraordinarily important decision, and it will soon be cited by car accident lawyers throughout Michigan as the seminal case for any lawyer representing people with prior significant medical histories, the elderly, the young, those who work at home or outside the traditional workforce, and for any case that is at first difficult to quantify the impact on a “normal life.”
Here’s the Michigan Court of Appeals opinion on Chase v. Pomilia.
– Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top experts in serious car and truck accident injury cases and auto insurance no-fault litigation. Michigan Auto Law has received the largest reported jury verdict for an automobile accident case in Michigan in seven of the past 10 years, including 2009, according to published year-end verdicts and settlements reports.
– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by chispita_666
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