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Michigan Supreme Court Reverses Court of Appeals' Decision in Benefiel v Auto-Owners Insurance Company

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Zachary W. Behler
Foster Swift No-Fault E-News
December 23, 2008

The Michigan Supreme Court has reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded for determination whether the Plaintiff's injuries, suffered in his second car accident in a single year, caused a serious impairment of body function.  Benefiel v Auto-Owners Insurance Co (135778) (12/12/08).

The Plaintiff sought uninsured motorist (UM) benefits for injuries to his left shoulder and neck, allegedly from a second automobile accident in one year.  Defendant argued that the second accident did not cause a serious impairment of an important body function that affected Plaintiff's general ability to lead a normal life. The trial court agreed and granted summary disposition for Defendant.  The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Plaintiff suffered a serious impairment as a matter of law based on comparing his condition after the second accident to his "normal life" before the first accident.

The Michigan Supreme Court has vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals, holding that the Court of Appeals correctly reversed the grant of summary disposition because there were disputed issues of fact but erroneously based its analysis on a comparison to the Plaintiff’s “normal life” as it was before his first accident.  The Court noted that "serious impairment" under MCL 500.3135 is intertwined with a causation analysis, so that "a Plaintiff who has suffered successive injuries bears the burden of proving that his current injury was caused by the subsequent accident and not be some independent occurrence."  The case was remanded to the trial court so that Plaintiff could attempt to make the requisite showing.

This case is important because of the Supreme Court's analysis of serious impairment in the context of successive accidents.