MSC overturns Kreiner

In case you missed it, last night, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the controversial Kreiner v Fischer “serious impairment” auto case in a 4-3 vote. See McCormick v Carrier.

On the basis of the foregoing, the proper interpretation of the clear and unambiguous language in MCL 500.3135 creates the following test.

To begin with, the court should determine whether there is a factual dispute regarding the nature and the extent of the person’s injuries, and, if so, whether the dispute is material to determining whether the serious impairment of body function threshold is met. MCL 500.3135(2)(a)(i) and (ii). If there is no factual dispute, or no material factual dispute, then whether the threshold is met is a question of law for the court. Id.

If the court may decide the issue as a matter of law, it should next determine whether the serious impairment threshold has been crossed. The unambiguous language of MCL 500.3135(7) provides three prongs that are necessary to establish a “serious impairment of body function”: (1) an objectively manifested impairment (observable or perceivable from actual symptoms or conditions) (2) of an important body function (a body function of value, significance, or consequence to the injured person) that (3) affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life (influences some of the plaintiff’s capacity to live in his or her normal manner of living).

The serious impairment analysis is inherently fact- and circumstance- specific and must be conducted on a case-by-case basis. As stated in the Kreiner dissent, “[t]he Legislature recognized that what is important to one is not important to all[;] a brief impairment may be devastating whereas a near permanent impairment may have little effect.” Kreiner, 471 Mich at 145 (CAVANAGH, J., dissenting). As such, the analysis
does not “lend itself to any bright-line rule or imposition of [a] nonexhaustive list of factors,” particularly where there is no basis in the statute for such factors. Id. Accordingly, because “[t]he Legislature avoided drawing lines in the sand . . . so must we.” Id.

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