Author Archive

The “51%” Rule

Written by Joseph Collison

Case: Cecile v. Wang
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
Judges: Per Curiam – Sawyer, Cavanagh, and Fort Hood

In an automobile negligence action such as this, “damages shall not be assessed in favor of a party who is more than 50% at fault.” MCL 500.3135(2)(b). The relative negligence of the parties is ordinarily a question for the trier of fact. However, if no reasonable juror could find that the defendant was more at fault than the plaintiff in an accident, then a plaintiff’s comparative negligence may be considered at the summary disposition stage.

In this case, no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that defendant was negligent and that she was more at fault for the accident than plaintiff.3 The accident occurred on Michigan Avenue, a busy five-lane road, during evening rush hour traffic on December 18, 2014. Plaintiff, who was employed by two car dealerships across the street from each other on Michigan Avenue, was attempting to cross the road from one dealership to the other. The traffic was heavily congested and moving at only 10 to 15 miles an hour. Plaintiff did not use the crosswalk that was available at the nearby intersection with Oakwood Boulevard. He was standing in the center turn lane when he was struck by defendant’s vehicle. The only independent witness, Joanne Hofner, testified that it was dark, rainy, and sleety. Hofner, who believes she was two vehicles ahead of defendant’s vehicle in the inner eastbound lane closest to the center lane, did not see plaintiff until she passed him. Hofner felt distraught and scared when she passed plaintiff because it was so dark and rainy and she wondered what he was doing standing in the middle of the turn lane. After she passed plaintiff, Hofner saw headlights that she assumed were from defendant’s vehicle pull into the center lane and then heard but did not see the accident. Hofner did not think there was anything defendant could have done to avoid the accident.

Plaintiff testified that he had no memory of the accident itself. He remembered approaching the street and that the traffic was bumper to bumper, but that was the last thing he could recall. Plaintiff indicated in his deposition that he did not recall the weather conditions or whether it was light or dark out. Plaintiff admitted that he regularly crossed the road at this location and that he never used the crosswalk when going back and forth between the dealerships. In an affidavit appended to his response to the summary disposition motion, plaintiff averred that the location where he crossed the street was well lighted by the car dealerships and the headlights of the vehicles on the road.

It is clear from this evidence that no reasonable juror could find that defendant was more at fault for the accident than plaintiff. Plaintiff chose not to use the nearby crosswalk, which is relevant to the issue of comparative negligence. He instead crossed away from the crosswalk on a five-lane road that was by his own admission congested with rush-hour traffic. Hofner’s testimony established that it was dark, rainy, and sleety. Hofner did not see plaintiff in the center lane until he was right next to her vehicle, which startled her, and she indicated that there was nothing defendant could have done to avoid striking plaintiff. Summary Disposition in favor of Defendant was granted.

Establishing Causation

Written by Joseph Collison

Case: Estate of Kenneth Gene Owens v. Mantha Mgmt. Group, Inc.
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
Judges: Per Curiam – Murphy and Jansen; Concurrence – Ronayne Krause

Establishing causation entails proving two separate elements: (1) cause in fact, and (2) legal cause, also known as “proximate cause.” .  The cause in fact element generally requires showing that “but for” the defendant’s actions, the plaintiff’s injury would not have occurred. On the other hand, legal cause or “proximate cause” normally involves examining the foreseeability of consequences, and whether a defendant should be held legally responsible for such consequences. A plaintiff must adequately establish cause in fact in order for legal cause or “proximate cause” to become a relevant issue. Circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences arising from the evidence can be utilized to establish causation. But it is not sufficient to proffer a causation theory that, while factually supported, is, at best, just as possible as another theory.  A plaintiff must present substantial evidence from which a jury may conclude that more likely than not, but for the defendant’s conduct, the plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred. Litigants do not have any right to submit an evidentiary record to the jury that would allow the jury to do nothing more than guess.

Voiding a Policy Because of Fraud – PIP

Written by Joseph Collison

Case: Shultz v. Pioneer State Mut. Ins. Co.
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
Judges: Per Curiam – Beckering, M.J. Kelly, and O’Brien

Generally whether or not an individual committed fraud is a question of fact for the jury, see Shelton v Auto-Owners, 318 Mich App 648, 658-660; 899 NW2d 744 (2017). However, summary disposition is appropriate if there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding an insured’s fraud, Bahri, 308 Mich App at 426. To void a policy because the insured has wilfully misrepresented a material fact, an insurer must show that (1) the misrepresentation was material, (2) that it was false, (3) that the insured knew that it was false at the time it was made or that it was made recklessly, without any knowledge of its truth, and (4) that the insured made the material misrepresentation with the intention that the insurer would act upon it. A statement is material if it is reasonably relevant to the insurer’s investigation of a claim.

 

Case Evaluation – PIP

Written by Joseph Collison

Case: Vandercook v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co.
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Published-After-Release Opinion )
Judges: Per Curiam – Meter, Gadola, and Tukel

 

Plaintiff sued defendant for breach of a no-fault auto insurance policy issued by defendant to recover no-fault personal protection insurance benefits (PIP) for expenses, loss of wages, replacement services, and other benefits related to injuries sustained by plaintiff in an auto accident on December 23, 2014. Plaintiff also sought declaratory relief for determination of plaintiff’s rights to PIP benefits and defendant’s rights to reduction, set offs, or reimbursements of paid benefits. The case was submitted for case evaluation. Plaintiff’s case evaluation summary listed disputed benefits and stated that defendant owed approximately $93,000 for medical expenses and family-provided attendant care.

The case evaluation panel considered the case and unanimously awarded plaintiff $45,000. Plaintiff accepted the award but typed into the form that he accepted the award “as to benefits referenced in Plaintiff’s Case Evaluation Summary only. Not including wage loss.” Defendant also accepted the award which, because both parties had accepted, had the effect of settling the case for that amount. See MCR 2.403(M).

After notification of the parties’ mutual acceptance, defendant moved for clarification from the trial court as to whom the proper payees were for payment of the case evaluation award. Plaintiff responded by arguing that he had limited his case evaluation acceptance to the unpaid bills he had referred to in his case evaluation summary.

In this case, the parties agreed to submit the case to case evaluation. Neither party objected to case evaluation under MCR 2.403(C).3 Further, the trial court did not exempt any aspect of plaintiff’s action from case evaluation under MCR 2.403(A)(3). Therefore, the case evaluation panel had the entire case for its consideration and determination.

Upon both parties’ acceptance of case evaluation, MCR 2.403(M)(1) required the trial court to enter judgment and dismiss the entire action—not review plaintiff’s case evaluation summary and allow him to bifurcate his claims so that he could file another lawsuit for PIP benefits which had accrued before the date of the case evaluation hearing.

Serious Impairment of Body Function

Written by Joseph Collison

Case: Lee v. Cooley
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
Judges: Per Curiam – Swartzle, Sawyer, and Markey

Plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Disposition because she met the threshold requirements of MCL 500.3135(1) to maintain an action for noneconomic tort damages. She asserted that she had shown an objectively manifested impairment that affected her general ability to lead her normal life, including her ability to walk with her daughter for exercise, to engage in everyday household chores, and to regularly travel between her children’s homes in Michigan and her brothers’ homes in Ohio.

Plaintiff argues that the trial court erroneously relied upon the physical therapist’s treatment note stating that plaintiff’s injuries had resolved, when Dr. Ruoff’s affidavit and continued treatment of plaintiff’s complaints contradicted that physical therapist’s note. Plaintiff also argues that the trial court inappropriately applied a temporal requirement to its analysis of whether plaintiff suffered a serious impairment of body function.

The trial court relied on the treatment notes from plaintiff’s physical therapy as evidence that by two and a half months after the accident the effects of the accident on plaintiff’s neck and back injuries had resolved.  However, “the statute does not create an express temporal requirement as to how long an impairment must last in order to have an effect on the person’s general ability to live his or her normal life.”  McCormick v Carrier, 487 Mich 180, 215; 795 NW2d 517 (2010).

To the extent that the trial court based its grant of summary disposition to defendant upon the length of time that plaintiff’s accident-related injuries impacted plaintiff’s general ability to lead her normal life, the trial court erred in failing to find a genuine issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff’s neck and back injuries qualified as a serious impairment of body function.

Plaintiff testified that she experienced significantly worse pain after the accident and her son testified that she was able to perform daily household chores before the accident, but that she was unable to perform those same chores after the accident.  Plaintiff’s testimony also established that traveling between Traverse City and Ohio was a large part of her life before the accident, and she was unable to continue traveling between those two locations after the accident.  Because a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the neck and back injuries suffered by plaintiff in the accident affected her ability to lead her normal life in her normal manner of living, the trial court erred in granting defendant’s motion for summary disposition.