March 14, 2017
In Spectrum Health Hospitals v Farmers Insurance Exchange, Michigan Court of Appeals unpublished opinion, Docket No. 329907 (February 21, 2017), the Michigan Court of Appeals considered the causal relationship between a motor vehicle accident and a subsequent fall which resulted in new and additional injuries. Because the motor vehicle accident-related injuries indirectly contributed to the fall, the Court of Appeals found they were too far remote from the accident itself to trigger Defendant’s liability for payment of no-fault benefits related to the fall.
Tamra Wheeler was involved in a motor vehicle accident in 1989. Her motor vehicle accident resulted in lower extremity injuries and rendered her left leg “like a post”. Moreover, a left ankle fusion resulted in differing leg lengths. Her treating physician, Dr. John Maskill, testified that Wheeler had difficulty walking on uneven surfaces. Moreover, her consumption of medication made her appear impaired. Wheeler often used a wheelchair for ambulation.
On April 5, 2013, twenty-plus years after the accident, Wheeler took her wheelchair outside. She fractured her right ankle when she fell on ice after she attempted to get out of her wheelchair. She required ankle surgery, which Dr. Maskill performed on April 16, 2013 at Plaintiff facility. The parties stipulated that the incurred charges for the surgery were $17,300.57; however, Defendant denied payment on the basis that the fall was the result of an intervening event and was not related to the 1989 motor vehicle accident. In support of Plaintiff’s claim, Dr. Maskill testified that Wheeler’s fall was related to her accident related injuries and therefore was related to the accident in question; however, he admitted that he did not witness the fall, did not know how much ice was present, and did not know whether the area was flat.
Defendant sought to exclude Dr. Maskill’s testimony from the trial and moved for a directed verdict on the basis that his testimony was speculative. Defendant further argued that Plaintiff failed to establish a causal connection between the fall and the accident. The trial court denied Defendant’s motions, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff. On December 5, 2014, the Court entered an order regarding the jury verdict that stated, “This Order does not resolve the last pending claim and does not close the case.” On January 13, 2015, the Court entered an order of judgment that included Plaintiff’s claimed damages, as well as attorney fees.
On January 30, 2015, Defendant appealed to the Circuit Court, seeking reversal of the District Court’s denial of its motion for directed verdict and the motion to exclude Maskill’s testimony. The Circuit Court reversed the denial of the motion for directed verdict, and refused to address the motion to exclude Maskill’s testimony.
Plaintiff then filed a motion for reconsideration. It argued that the appeal was not timely and therefore, the Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction. The Circuit Court held that the December 5, 2015 order was not a final judgment and was merely a reflection of the jury’s verdict. Instead, the Circuit Court determined that the January 13, 2015 verdict was the final order. The Circuit Court also held that Defendant was not liable to Plaintiff for payment of no-fault PIP benefits related to Wheeler’s slip and fall.
On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed that the December 5, 2014 Order was not the final order, as it did not dispose of all of Plaintiff’s claims. Namely, the December 5, 2014 Order did not address Plaintiff’s claims for attorney fees. Instead, Plaintiff’s claims were fully disposed of in the January 13, 2015 Order.
Plaintiff also argued on appeal that the Circuit Court erred in finding that it failed to present evidence in support of the causal relationship between Wheeler’s fall and the 1989 motor vehicle accident. The Court of Appeals disagreed, and stated that the evidence revealed that Wheeler fractured her ankle because she fell on ice. While the 1989 motor vehicle accident related injuries indirectly caused Plaintiff’s slip and fall, the subsequent injuries were too remote to have “arisen out of the motor vehicle accident in question.” Consequently, Defendant could not have been liable to Plaintiff for payment of no-fault PIP benefits or attorney fees resulting from the April 2013 fall.
April 20, 2017
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
1000 East Beltline Ave. NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
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If you wish to attend please register with Lynn Beatty at firstname.lastname@example.org
May 18, 2017
Marriott Indianapolis North
3645 River Crossing Parkway
Indianapolis, IN 46240
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