May 23, 2019
In the recent case of Martin v Horton , the Michigan Court of Appeals issued yet another in a line of unpublished opinions examining what constitutes a compensable threshold injury under the Michigan no-fault act as re-interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court in McCormick v Carrier.
The plaintiff in Martin was 14 years old when she was thrown off a motorcycle operated by a family friend, Charles Horton. Horton did not supply the plaintiff with a helmet before allowing her to accompany him on the motorcycle. The evidence indicated that Horton attempted to change lanes while travelling approximately 40 miles per hour when he lost traction due to an oily patch in the roadway. Police did not write him a citation for the accident.
As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered a fractured wrist, abrasions on her face and knees, and a “mild” traumatic brain injury. These injuries generally healed within several months of the accident. But, during this time, plaintiff was forced to miss her freshman high school basketball season and had difficulty participating in track and field and other athletic activities. The plaintiff also testified that she lost her memory of the accident and the several months that followed; that lacerations near her mouth created a temporary speech impediment, resulting in her being bullied at school; and that prior mental health problems had been exacerbated, causing the plaintiff to attempt suicide. Although an independent medical examiner retained by the defense asserted that plaintiff had completely healed, plaintiff testified that continuing knee pain and dizzy spells inhibited her long term ability to participate in sports. She also testified that she experienced continuing twinges of pain in her wrist and recurring headaches.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary dismissal of the plaintiff’s case, holding that the plaintiff’s “injuries did not completely destroy her normal life, did not impact every facet of her life, and did not last forever. However, that is not the threshold to establish that a plaintiff’s injuries affected her general ability to lead her normal life.” Instead, the Court said there was evidence that “at least for a time,” plaintiff’s “capacity to live in her normal manner of living was impacted. And that period of time was sufficient to create genuine issues of material fact” as to whether the plaintiff had suffered threshold injuries such that she was entitled to take her case to trial.
Finally, the Court of Appeals also held that the plaintiff had created genuine issues of material fact on the question of Horton’s negligence. While the plaintiff could not recall the accident herself, and while Horton did not receive a citation following the accident, the Court held that the narrative of the accident that Horton had lost control of the motorcycle while changing lanes was sufficient to create a question as to whether Horton did so improperly.
This case exemplifies how many Court of Appeals panels continue to employ a broad standard to determine whether questions of fact exist concerning whether the plaintiff has suffered a serious impairment of body function. Consequently, the likelihood of successfully obtaining summary disposition of threshold claims continues to remain tenuous, and defense teams should be prepared to litigate these cases accordingly.
 Unpublished opinion per curiam of the Michigan Court of Appeals, decided May 16, 2019 (Docket No 344875).
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