Under Michigan Compiled Laws §550.3135, a cause of action for damages may be brought by a person who has suffered serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement. The definition of “serious impairment of a body function” is considered a verbal threshold, since the term is not defined specifically in the statute. The question of what constitutes serious impairment of a body function has been debated ever since the law took effect in 1973.
In 1982, the Michigan Supreme Court asserted its first interpretation of “serious impairment of bodily function” in Cassidy v. McGovern. The court established a threshold that specified that an injury must affect the ability to live a normal life. Since “a normal life” can be loosely defined, few plaintiffs were able to recover non-economic damages under Cassidy. Only those who were completely unable to work and/or care for themselves were considered disabled enough to qualify under this standard.
In 1986, the Michigan Supreme Court decided the DiFranco v. Pickard case, in which the definition of “serious impairment of a body function” was expanded. The court held that an injured party must show that there is a physical basis for subjective complaints of pain and suffering. Factors to consider included the extent of the impairment, the body function affected, the length of time of impairment, and the treatment required. The more generous interpretation opened the doors for fairer recovery for personal injury plaintiffs.
The success experienced after DiFranco lasted until 2004, when the Michigan Supreme Court decided Kreiner v. Fischer and narrowed the definition of “serious impairment of bodily injury” to an injury that affects the general ability to lead a normal life. Under Kreiner, it was insufficient for an injury to affect just part of one’s life, and could not be a mere minor interruption. Therefore, a person who suffered and eventually recovered from a severe injury, or a person who suffered an isolated injury but could still proceed with his/her life, was unlikely to be compensated for the injuries.
McCormick v. Carrier, decided by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2010, expanded the restrictive definition of “serious impairment of a body function” that had been imposed under Kreiner. Where under Kreiner a person had to show total disruption of his/her life, under McCormick, an injured victim has only to establish that the impairment affected some of the person’s capacity to lead a normal life. Under this more inclusive standard, many more people are able to be compensated for their injuries.
- Cassidy v. McGovern, 330 NW 2d 22 (1982)
- DiFranco v. Pickard, 287 NW 2d 896 (1986)
- Kreiner v. Fischer, 683 NW2d 611 (2004)
- McCormick v. Carrier, 795 NW2d 517 (2010)