May 03, 2022
On April 15, 2019, Plaintiff, Linda Smith, was stopped at a red light when Defendant, Robert Nesbitt, collided with the Defendant Michael Koenigsknecht’s vehicle, which was then pushed into Plaintiff’s vehicle. Plaintiff was treated at ER at Beaumont Hospital where she complained of “significant pain” to her head, neck, and “entire spine.” Medical records from the visit indicated that Plaintiff sustained acute cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine strains. Plaintiff complained of severe lower back pain while in physical therapy after the accident and claimed that it interfered with her ability to walk, stand, or sit for greater than 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Records indicated that her conditions improved during the course of physical therapy, but past medical records showed that Plaintiff had received medical treatment for chronic low back pain involving degenerative changes and “probable nondisplaced fracture of the upper coccyx” within two years prior to the accident. Neurologist Leonard Sahn, M.D. opined Plaintiff’s claimed injuries from the accident would not significantly affect her ability to lead her normal life.
Defendant Nesbitt moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10). The trial court granted Defendant’s motion in a written opinion, which also contained the court’s thoughts about the relative strength and credibility of the evidence that plaintiff suffered a threshold injury as a result of the motor vehicle accident. The trial court emphasized Plaintiff’s pre-accident medical history and opined that her post-accident symptoms and pain could not “establish a causal connection between the accident and Plaintiff’s continuing complaints of back pain, anxiety, or depression, or her more recent complaints of memory loss.”
Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration was denied. Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Koenigsknecht had already been dismissed upon stipulation of the parties prior to Defendant Nesbitt filing his motion for summary disposition. After the trial court denied Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of the decision granting Defendant Nesbitt’s motion for summary disposition, Plaintiff and Defendant Auto Club Insurance Association (“Defendant ACIA”) stipulated to dismiss Plaintiff’s lone remaining claims against Defendant ACIA on June 15, 2021, which then closed the case. Plaintiff then filed an appeal of right.
In the unpublished Court of Appeals decision of Smith v Auto Club Ins Assn, Defendant argued the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction because Plaintiff was not an “aggrieved party” with respect to the June 15, 2021 stipulated order of dismissal and that the stipulated order did not preserve plaintiff’s right to appeal earlier orders. The Court of Appeals noted that Defendant was not a party to the stipulation between Plaintiff and Defendant ACIA, and that Plaintiff’s appeal was challenging the trial court’s decision granting summary disposition to Defendant, not any judgment to which Plaintiff stipulated. Finally, the stipulated order was the first “final order” dismissing all remaining claims and thus Plaintiff only had a right to file a claim of appeal, from all prior orders, upon entry of the stipulated order. Thus, the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to consider Plaintiff’s claim of appeal.
The Court of Appeals then found the Circuit Court had erred in granting summary disposition in favor of Defendant on the question whether the subject accident caused Plaintiff to suffer an objectively manifested impairment, noting the Circuit Court did not address the two other elements of the serious impairment threshold. The Court of Appeals noted that although there was evidence that Plaintiff treated for lower back pain before the accident, there was also evidence she suffered acute neck and back strains after the accident which diminished her ability to sit, stand, and walk as compared to her abilities to perform those tasks before the accident. Wilkinson v Lee, 463 Mich 388, 395; 617 NW2d 305 (2000).
The Court of Appeals also took issue with the Circuit Court’s subjective assessment of the relative strength and credibility of the record evidence, which the Court of Appeals found to be the Circuit Court’s attempt to resolve factual issues of causation that should be for a jury to decide. Because the Circuit Court granted Defendant’s motion by improperly resolving questions of fact regarding causation, the Court of Appeals reversed that decision and remanded the matter back to the Circuit Court.