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Why Hunter v. Sisco is wrong: Court to decide what qualifies as “bodily injury” under Motor Vehicle Exception to Governmental Immunity

April 28, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

A bridge too far: Shouldn’t there be liability for pain and suffering, emotional, psychological injuries proximately caused by  at-fault drivers under governmental immunity exception?

Bridging the gap, Hunter v. Sisco

Hunter v. Sisco is the now infamous case that has come to the rather incredible conclusion: That under the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity in Michigan, a person who suffers serious injury can only recover for bodily injury, but that same person cannot recover for the pain and suffering, emotional shock or stress that this bodily injury causes.

The Hunter decision is wrong.  It is completely contradicted by the medicine and the science.  It says the world is flat, when we know the world is round.

And it represents judicial activism and extremism at its worst (more of this in part two of my legal analysis, tomorrow).

Hunter v. Sisco came down after Hannay v. Department of Transportation was published by a different panel of the Court of Appeals – which I doubt the judges in Hunter even knew about, as Hannay was not even mentioned in the Hunter opinion. What’s most troubling about Hunter is  it makes the most basic mistake on the medicine and the science.

You cannot dissect and separate out the physical and corporeal injuries to the body from the pain and stress and emotional consequences that these injuries cause. Countless peer-reviewed, published medical journal articles have all demonstrated that there’s a clear link between a serious physical injury, and the pain, stress and emotional and psychological injuries that flow from them.

As Dr. Sean Mackey, a researcher at the preeminent Stanford University’s Pain Management Center put it to Time Magazine much better than I could:

“With chronic pain however, the alarm continues to shriek uselessly long after the physical danger has passed.  Somewhere along the line – maybe near the initial injury, maybe in the spinal cord or brain – the alarm system has broken down.  What researchers have only recently come to understand is that prolonged exposure to this screaming siren actually does its own damage.  Pain causes a fundamental rewiring of the nervous system.”

Or, as Dr. Nathan Zasler concludes from a journal article entitled “Psychological, Neuropsychological, and Medical Considerations in Assessment and Management of Pain” in the Journal of Head Trauma and Rehabilitation, there is a clearly understood mind-body connection: What happens to the body clearly effects the mind.  What happens to the mind clearly effects the body.

Everyone gets this – except the judges who sat on the Hunter v. Sisco case.

You do not need to do yoga to understand there is a mind-body connection. Everyone understands this (including the judges who issued Hannay v. Department of Transportation and every trial court judge that is asked to make a ridiculous choice after Hunter to sever the physical bodily injury to the body from the pain and suffering and emotional consequences that any serious physical injury by definition will cause.

Tomorrow, in part two of this blog, I will explore the legal reasons why Hunter v. Sisco is wrong.

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