February 20, 2014
In the recent unpublished opinion of Trimble v Shepardson, (Docket No. 311572, issued February 11, 2014), the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling by the Hillsdale Circuit Court that two Plaintiffs involved in an automobile accident on August 31, 2009, had failed to establish that their alleged injuries had affected their general ability to lead their normal lives.
Plaintiffs Donald Trimble and Dena Brewer were occupants in a vehicle that was rear ended by a truck driven by Defendant Brian Shepardson and owned by Defendant Central Transport. Before the accident, both had been deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration, did not work, received disability benefits, suffered from pain issues, and were on medication. Both claimed that the accident caused them to suffer neck pain, and Brewer additionally complained of low back pain.
The Defendants did not dispute that both Plaintiffs had suffered an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function. They argued, however, and both the trial court and the Court of Appeals agreed, that Plaintiffs had failed to proffer any evidence that their injuries had any influence on some of their capacity to live in their normal manner of living. In doing so, the Court of Appeals noted that neither Plaintiff could identify any specific activity of daily life that their accident-related injuries prevented them from engaging in. In fact, Trimble proffered no evidence that his injuries affected his daily activities at all. And, while Brewer claimed that she could not hold her hands over her head without experiencing pain, the Court noted that she proffered no testimony that this pain affected her daily activities.
Most interesting about the Court’s decision is that it rejected the Plaintiff’s assertion that the nature and extent of their injuries and the ongoing treatment needed, alleged to have lasted more than three years, was not itself sufficient to establish that their ability to lead their normal lives had been affected. Rather, the Court held that “[t]he fact that an injured person must receive treatment for an injury is separate from whether that injured person’s normal life has been affected by the injury.” Since the Plaintiffs in Trimble were already disabled before the accident, and evidently receiving medical treatment was already part of their normal lives, it will be interesting to see if other panels of the Court of Appeals will apply the same distinction between the need for treatment and the affect on one’s normal life in suits filed by Plaintiffs who were not already disabled.