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Pain and Suffering Damages Are Not Recoverable in Third-Party No-Fault Cases Arising Out of the Use of a Governmental Motor Vehicle

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Lindsey E. Bosch
Foster Swift No-Fault E-News
July 17, 2013

Under the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity, governmental agencies are liable for bodily injury and property damage arising out of the negligent operation of a governmental vehicle driven by a governmental employee. MCL 691.1405. Hunter v Sisco, 300 Mich App 299, _NW2d _(2013), decided April 2, 2013, clarified that this exception does not contemplate recovery for pain and suffering or emotional damages.

In Hunter, a dump truck owned by the City of Flint and driven by a city employee side-swiped the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff claimed that his accident-related injuries did not allow him to work, perform chores, sit or stand for long periods of time, drive, bend or lift more than 5 to 10 pounds. He also claimed that he could no longer play sports with his son and the children he mentored and that the accident caused him "stress and disappointment." The Court of Appeals found that in drafting the motor vehicle exception, the Legislature specifically limited the waiver of immunity only to bodily injury and property damages. For guidance, the Court of Appeals reviewed Wesche v Mecosta Co Rd Comm, 480 Mich 75; 746 NW2d 847 (2008), a Michigan Supreme Court opinion, which explains that “bodily injury” means actual physical harm or damage to the human body. Based on this reasoning, the court held that the City was not liable for the plaintiff’s alleged pain and suffering and emotional damages. 

Relying on Hunter, the Genesee County Circuit Court recently granted summary disposition in favor of one of Foster Swift’s clients. The plaintiff in that case claimed pain and suffering damages associated with several injuries he sustained in a collision with a school bus, including a knee injury resulting in surgery. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the meaning of “bodily injury” necessarily included any pain and suffering arising out of that injury because any other interpretation would preclude a complete compensation for the plaintiff. Plaintiff’s counsel cited several general negligence cases in support of his argument.

Foster Swift attorneys emphasized that while pain and suffering may be compensable in some tort cases, Hunter interpreted the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity according to its plain and unambiguous meaning that “bodily injury” does not include pain and suffering that may have derived from a bodily injury. Not only did the court accept Foster Swift’s argument that the plaintiff failed to meet his evidentiary burden of showing that his injuries affected his general ability to live his normal life, but the court further held that even if the plaintiff established a threshold injury, Hunter precluded a plaintiff’s recovery for pain and suffering damages.