Court rules that award of SSD benefits 20 years prior to crash doesn’t stop a car accident lawsuit from being filed for injury victim who was off work; SSD benefits awarded on different basis than claim from auto accident
There are two auto laws in Michigan when it comes to whether an injured car accident victim who is off work and collecting SSD can bring a lawsuit.
There is the actual auto law, and then we have what defense lawyers and insurance adjusters will claim is Michigan’s auto law. And just because a car accident victim was off work and collecting Social Security Disability benefits at the time of a car crash doesn’t mean that under Michigan law he can’t bring a car accident lawsuit to sue for his pain and suffering, despite what these defense lawyers and insurance claims adjusters may claim.
That’s the main lesson from the Michigan Court of Appeals recent ruling in Love v. Carr, where the defendant tried unsuccessfully to claim that the car accident victim, who had been collecting SSD benefits for nearly 20 years, didn’t qualify under Michigan’s auto accident threshold law because he’d already been “disabled from basically living his normal life.”
Thankfully, the Court of Appeals saw through the inaccuracy of this argument and has soundly rejected it:
- Defendants’ evidence supported that in 1991, Love suffered injuries that disabled him from full-time employment.
- Contrary to the circuit court’s ruling, social security disability benefits are not awarded based on disability “from basically living a normal life.” Rather, eligibility for social security disability benefits depends on whether an individual’s medical condition “significantly limit[s]” the person’s “ability to do basic work activities—such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering—for at least 12 months”
- No evidence of record supports that when awarding Love benefits, the Social Security Administration found his disabilities so severe that he could not “lead a normal life.”
Sadly, the other lessons for Michigan car accident attorneys to be learned from Love are not so positive.
The Love ruling is a sober reminder for all of us that insurance defense attorneys and claims adjusters will intentionally misrepresent what Michigan’s auto law is, and the meaning and significance of the evidence they present on behalf of recalcitrant auto insurers.
Overall, the Love ruling is a good reminder that being disabled from work or meeting Social Security Disability guidelines will not be a total bar to recovery under Michigan’s serious impairment of body function threshold law for car accident lawsuits.
That is good news not only for people who have serious medical conditions that qualify for SSD, but also for those who are disabled from work and for the very young and the very old and those in school who are also not in the workforce. None of these conditions act as a bar to bringing a car accident lawsuit for someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and injured through no fault of their own.
Misrepresenting meaning of evidence didn’t work in case involving Michigan car accident victim who was off work at time of crash and collecting SSD
Similarly, the appellate judges in Love had little time for the defense’s other claims that the medical records dumped on the trial court revealed “no measureable difference between plaintiff’s life before and after the accident.”
The court concluded:
- None “of the medical records defendant submitted establish” that the plaintiff’s injuries, which led to his being awarded SSD benefits, were “so severe that he could not ‘lead a normal life.’”
- “We cannot locate any evidence in them that even hints at which activities Love could or could not perform before the accident.”
- “[A]bsolutely nothing in the medical records supports the circuit court’s finding that Love ‘was disabled from leading his normal life because of the variety of his conditions.’”
- “That Love was unable to work due to injuries sustained in 1991 does not mean that he was unable to do any of the things he claimed to have enjoyed in the years thereafter. Certainly, no evidence supports defendants’ claim that before the accident Love could not walk for more than a block, play basketball or volleyball, fish, or cook—only supposition that because he receives social security disability benefits and complained of occasional back pain, his life was unchanged.”
What’s the significance of being off work and collecting SSD benefits in Michigan when filing a car accident lawsuit?
The Social Security Administration website for Social Security Disability Benefits says: “Social Security pays disability benefits to people who can’t work because they have a medical condition that’s expected to last at least one year or result in death.”
If it wasn’t already obvious that SSD benefits were based on work disability (i.e., being disabled due to an injury from working), then it would have certainly been easy enough – for a defense lawyer or a judge – to discover.
Without much digging, either would’ve quickly learned that a work disability for SSD purposes is not the same thing as being “disabled from basically living a normal life” – which is what the trial judge in Love mistakenly concluded.
There are two different laws and two different legal standards at play here. There is the legal standard to qualify for SSD, and then there is a different legal standard to qualify under Michigan law to file a car accident lawsuit and recover compensation for injuries and pain and suffering. The defense argument that the determination of SSD and being unable to work automatically disqualifies someone from recovery for a car accident was just plain wrong.
How did car accident injuries affect a victim who was off work due to an employment disability?
In 2012, Leonard Love was seriously injured in a rear-end car accident in Detroit, Michigan. The lawsuit was filed in Wayne County, Michigan. The car accident was caused by an as-yet unidentified hit-and-run driver who was driving a vehicle owned by John Carr.
As a result of the car crash, Love – who had been disabled through the Social Security Administration from working in 1993 – suffered injuries including cervical disc herniations, lumbar spine injuries and impingement syndrome and a rotator cuff tear of the right shoulder. He also experienced aggravation of preexisting injuries.
Because Love’s injuries prevented him from continuing to earn money cooking for friends and family, interfered with his romantic life and kept him from participating in recreational activities such as basketball, volleyball, fishing, long-distance walking and roller-skating, he sued Carr for pain and suffering compensation, alleging that he had suffered a “serious impairment of body function.”