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Michigan law recognizes tragic relationship between auto accidents and traumatic brain injury

April 5, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

How the prevalence of motor vehicle accident-related brain injury is reflected in MI auto law governing pain and suffering compensation for accident victims

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) resulting from Michigan car accidents fall into a special category under our auto laws. Unlike other personal injuries to the body and unlike any other auto accident-related injury, brain injury has its own special law, and is afforded special treatment.

How brain injuries are different under Michigan’s auto laws

Under Michigan law, a seriously injured auto accident victim can sue the “at fault” driver for pain and suffering compensation, only if the victim can show that she suffered a “serious impairment of body function.”

A “serious impairment of body function” is defined as “an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.” (MCL 500.3135(1) and (7))

For all non-TBI or non-closed-head injury cases, the determination of whether an auto accident victim has satisfied the “serious impairment of body function” requirement is decided by a trial judge as a “question[] of law.” (MCL 500.3135(2)(a))

However, the rule is different for traumatic brain (referred to under our law as closed-head injury cases) has an important exception:

“[F]or a closed-head injury, a question of fact for the jury is created if a licensed allopathic or osteopathic physician who regularly diagnoses or treats closed-head injuries testifies under oath that there may be a serious neurological injury.” (MCL 500.3135(2)(a)(ii))

Tragic relationship between auto accidents and TBI

The tragic relationship between auto accidents and traumatic brain injuries is well documented.

  • Car crashes are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injuries, according to the Brain Injury Association of Michigan and the Brain Injury Association of America.
  • Of all the catastrophic injuries resulting from Michigan auto accidents, TBI or closed-head injuries are overwhelmingly the most prevalent, according to data maintained by the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association.
  • The August 2011 study, “The Impact of Reducing PIP Coverage in Michigan,” which was prepared by Public Sector Consultants for the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council, determined that the “estimated average lifetime cost for medical care of individuals [25 years of age] suffering a motor vehicle-related TBI would be $1,348,229 for men and $1,474,523 for women.” For men and women who are 50 years old, the lifetime medical care costs of a TBI are $676,454 and $802,748, respectively.

Legal help for Michigan lawyers and brain injury victims

In our resource center, Help for Michigan lawyers handling traumatic brain injury cases, our lawyers have put together the most comprehensive online guide to Michigan’s auto accident law for brain injuries. Based in large part on a series of legal seminars presented to the Michigan Association for Justice, ICLE, and the State Bar Negligence Section by Steven Gursten, these pages include tips for lawyers and tips for brain injury survivors to avoid the pitfalls of Michigan’s difficult auto accident threshold laws.

Here are a few:

Michigan traumatic brain injury law

Defense attorney traps for closed-head injury cases

Documenting traumatic brain injury


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