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Update on Michigan’s auto accident law and injury threshold

October 31, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

In Wallace v. Nance-Bacan, car accident victims’ ability to live normal life must be affected but “not destroyed”

A recent Michigan Court of Appeals case called Wallace v. Nance-Bacan is determining exactly what Michigan’s changing “serious impairment of body function” injury threshold will be.

Under the Michigan No Fault Law, an auto accident victim must meet the “serious impairment of body function” threshold – meaning his or her injuries must meet a certain criteria in order to sue for pain and suffering damages. A car accident victim who does not meet this threshold may not recover the non economic pain and suffering damages.

In this case, Mr. Wallace injured in a car wreck due to Ms. Nance-Bacan’s negligent driving. He was hospitalized for seven days with a collapsed lung and fractured ribs, and he suffers from ongoing neck and back pain.

The trial court threw out his case, saying his injuries under Michigan law were not “serious enough.” But the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge’s order granting Ms. Nance-Bacan’s attorney’s summary disposition motion to dismiss Mr. Wallace’s lawsuit.

So Mr. Wallace will get to have his day in court. And his attorney will be able to go to a jury on the issue of what is the appropriate amount of money for pain and suffering to compensate him after his serious car accident injuries.

Wallace v. Nance-Bacan is also notable because it sends an important message for insurance adjusters and defense attorneys who are incorrectly and misleadingly arguing that auto accident victims will not recover pain and suffering compensation for a “serious impairment of body function”– unless the injuries are permanent.

Currently, many injury lawyers handling auto accidents in Michigan are uncertain as to which direction our auto threshold law will go under our Republican-dominated Michigan Supreme Court. Will it return to the more draconian Kreiner v. Fischer (permanent injuries), or will the Court allow current McCormick v. Carrier (injures that generally affect your life) to stand?

Wallace, at least for now, answers this question. Here’s the Michigan Court of Appeals’ explanation:

“[T]he impact [of an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function] on [an auto accident victim’s] ability to lead a normal life need only be affected, not destroyed.” [Emphasis added]

Understanding Michigan’s auto law and “serious impairment of body function”
To understand Wallace, I’d like to review Michigan’s current auto accident law as it stands according to the Michigan Supreme Court ruling in McCormick v. Carrier, et al. In July 2010, the Michigan Supreme Court overruled its previous 2004 ruling in Kreiner v. Fischer with McCormick. This clarified the law for determining whether an auto accident victim like Mr. Wallace has met the Michigan No Fault Insurance Law’s “serious impairment of body function” threshold to sue for pain and suffering damages.

The Michigan Supreme Court determined that “serious impairment of body function” under McCormick 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.”

In Wallace, the Court of Appeals concluded that, based on Mr. Wallace’s deposition testimony “regarding the extent of his injuries and the impact on his life before and after the accident,” a jury at a trial should be given the opportunity to decide Mr. Wallace’s case — not the trial judge at a motion hearing filed by the defense attorney.

Related information:

Michigan car accident victim with collapsed lung, fractured ribs will get to a jury trial on pain and suffering injury threshold

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