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Court denies summary disposition for "serious impairment" claim

In Branch v. Kravklis, a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals denied the Defendant's Motion for Summary Disposition.  The Defendant sought a ruling that his negligence did not cause a "serious impairment of bodily function", given the Plaintiff's pre-existing medical history, however, the panel relied upon settled law to return the case for a jury decision on that complicated factual question.

The defendant had run a red light and struck Plaintiff's vehicle broadside on the driver's side.  She suffered immediate symptoms and was transported to the hospital where she was treated for neck pain.  She had a history of bilateral shoulder and back pain and in 2002 and  an MRI showed minor abnormalities in her spine.  A 2003 ultrasound showed degenerative arthritic changes and a rotator cuff tear in her right shoulder.  Corrective surgery had been scheduled for the shoulder, but was canceled for reasons that the treating doctor could not recall.  The plaintiff also showed some spurring in the neck and had been treated for fibromyalgia. 

Over the next many months after the collision, Ms. Branch sought chiropractic, physical therapy and medical treatment for back, neck and shoulder problems,  which included radiculopathy.  She was taken off work for a period, and her activities were severely limited, including a ten-pound weight restriction.  Tests on her shoulder and back were interpreted as showing progression of her pre-injury symptoms.  The Court concluded that it was for the jury--the "fact-finder" in our court system--to decide whether the Defendant's admittedly negligent conduct was a "cause" of "life-altering" post-motor vehicle collision symptoms.

Post-script:  A week after this opinion was issued, the panel issued a revised opinion, pointing out that the trial court had improperly decided questions of fact with regard to "serious impairment" without applying the Kreiner rubrick.  It therefore held that the trial court needed to address serious impairment issues on remand as well.

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