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MCOA rules preexisting condition doesn’t rule out MI lawsuit after auto accident

October 24, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan Court of Appeals ruling in Jackson v. Berens reinforces essential protection for motor vehicle accident victims: ‘plaintiff can establish an injury and receive compensation for the aggravation or exacerbation of a preexisting condition’


It’s an obfuscation insurance defense attorneys bring up time and time again in auto accident cases: Trying to shift blame for legitimate injuries onto preexisting conditions. It happens all the time in car and truck accident lawsuits. Insurance companies and defense attorneys use notorious IME doctors to deny financial liability after a crash, and essentially blame injured accident victims for being hurt. These IME doctors can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year doing this, and insurance companies are willing enablers because it lets them settle these cases for far less than they’re worth.

That’s what makes the recent Michigan Court of Appeals case, Jackson v. Berens, et al., so important for plaintiff attorneys. Jackson reinforces that a plaintiff is entitled to compensation in a lawsuit, even when he or she has preexisting injuries, as well as when the preexisting injuries are exacerbated by an automobile accident.

Here’s a closer look at the case…

What makes Jackson v. Berens so important

Although Rachelle Jackson was injured in a January 2013 car accident in Grand Rapids, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed that she was still able to pursue her lawsuit filed in the Kent County Circuit Court for her pain and suffering compensation and injuries arising from a second auto accident in August 2013.

The defense in Jackson wanted to bar her ability to bring a lawsuit, based upon a prior auto accident and injuries she had suffered. The defense attorney essentially argued that the plaintiff was not entitled to any pain and suffering compensation because she also had preexisting injuries before her second motor vehicle accident, and thus has not suffered a “serious impairment of body function” under Michigan’s auto accident threshold law.

But the court, in its unanimous opinion in Jackson v. Berens, et al., struck an important blow against this type of argument. In Jackson, the judges revealed this clever argument for the misleading over-simplification that it so often is:

“Given plaintiff’s apparent progress toward recovery from any symptoms caused by the first accident and her worsening symptoms after the second accident, the August accident could reasonably be seen as an aggravation of her preexisting condition and a prolonging of her recovery. … [A]s noted [previously], plaintiff can establish an injury and, receive compensation, for the aggravation or exacerbation of a preexisting condition. … Further, given evidence that plaintiff had begun to improve and return to some of her normal activities before the second accident, the second accident can reasonably be seen as affecting her general ability to lead her normal life.”

Again, this ruling is essential reading for Michigan lawyers (as well as for some of the judges I know who will be ruling on these cases).

After your  first car accident – making a record to distinguish and differentiate from your second crash

The court found significant the following facts about Ms. Jackson’s injuries, treatment and recovery as her first auto accident in January 2013:

  • “[P]laintiff underwent an MRI which showed injuries to plaintiff’s lumbar spine, including disc desiccation, bulging disc annulus, and interspace narrowing in relation to L5-S1. Although these changes were undisputedly degenerative in nature, plaintiff’s testimony indicates that she was ‘healthy’ and asymptomatic before her [second] accident …”
  • “[A]ccording to plaintiff’s testimony and medical records, before the second accident, she was ‘feeling wonderful’ and she had resumed some of her normal activities to some extent such as walking, weeding her garden, watering her yard, and attending church, and she was even doing things like jumping off of boats.”

Second motor vehicle accident aggravated preexisting condition

In comparing Ms. Jackson’s post-first-crash recovery and condition to her post-second-wreck condition, the Court of Appeals highlighted the following ways in which Ms. Jackson’s life arguably had been affected by the August 2013 car accident:

  • “[A]fter the [second] accident, plaintiff experienced significant pain and could not perform many of her normal activities, such as walking 5 miles daily for exercise as she did before the accident, maintaining her garden, attending church, and performing various household tasks.”
  • “[T]he second accident, plaintiff reported increased pain, she eventually underwent surgery, and she now wears a back brace. After the second accident, plaintiff reported a decrease in church attendance, an inability to walk for exercise, difficulty with basic tasks such as putting on her shoes, an inability to sit for long periods to do things like use her computer or watch television, and an inability to show affection to family, such as hugs, because of issues with her back. According to plaintiff, despite surgery, she has not fully recovered from her second accident and she remains unable to perform many of her normal activities.”

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