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Eccleston saves one MI auto accident victim’s pain and suffering lawsuit

July 31, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan Court Of Appeals finds that car crash victim’s ‘general ability to lead normal life’ was ‘significantly altered’

pain and suffering lawsuit

Eccleston v. Prisk, et al. demonstrates just how much some trial court judges fail to understand Michigan’s serious impairment of body function law. Just because a person who’s hurt in an auto accident is able to piece together some kind of life after a car crash does not preclude him from receiving pain and suffering compensation, or from filing a successful injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

That’s the lesson attorneys should be taking away from the Michigan Court of Appeals recent ruling in Eccleston, where a transportation company wanted the court to dismiss Chad Eccleston’s case for “pain and suffering” compensation on the grounds that:

“[I]t appears that Eccleston has found a way to continue his pre-accident life.”

In a unanimous opinion, the panel of appellate judges explained why the Oakland County trial judge blew it (this is, by the way, the correct legal term for a decision this bad):

  • “[T]hat is not the proper inquiry.”
  • “Rather, ‘courts should consider not only whether the impairment has led the person to completely cease a pre-incident activity or lifestyle element, but also whether, although a person is able to lead his or her pre-incident normal life, the person’s general ability to do so was nonetheless affected.”

After properly reframing the issue to correspond with the correct requirements of Michigan’s auto accident threshold law of serious impairment of body function, the court identified the evidence showing that dismissal of Chad Eccleston’s auto accident lawsuit was unwarranted.

Specifically, the Court of Appeals “acknowledge[d] that there is evidence that Eccleston still maintains a similar lifestyle, but there is also evidence that his general ability to lead his normal life has been significantly altered”:

  • “Before the accident, Eccleston was able to paint, hang drywall, and roof without any pain. After the accident, he stated, he was barely able to complete those jobs, having great pain while doing all three and hiring day laborers to do the work he could not do.”
  • “Further, Eccleston testified that he golfed less after his accident and could no longer lift weights or attend the gym, activities he did regularly before the accident.”
  • Eccleston’s treating physician and the auto insurance company’s IME doctor “both opined that Eccleston’s injuries from the accident were a prime cause of pain that will likely never go away.”

Pain and suffering compensation under Michigan’s auto accident threshold law

Under Michigan’s No Fault auto insurance law, a car crash victim can sue the person who causes a motor vehicle accident that produces personal injury for “noneconomic loss” damages, i.e., pain and suffering compensation, if he can show he suffered a “serious impairment of body function.”

Our No Fault law defines a “serious impairment of body function” (SIBF) 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(5))

One of the three key SIBF requirements, which was central to the Eccleston ruling, is whether an auto accident victim’s impairment “‘affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.’”

Many judges misunderstand this final prong. A person’s life does not have to be completely and permanently affected in order to have sufficient grounds to bring a successful lawsuit. Eccleston shows the proper legal inquiry for a trial court to make in determining whether an injury suffered in a car accident  “affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.”

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