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Court holds that accident victim did not suffer "serious impairment of bodily function;" cannot sue at-fault driver.

Eric Wilson sued Rodney James Lathrop after Lathrop's truck rear-ended his car.  He joined his own PIP carrier in the suit, claiming it had denied appropriate medical payments.  Within a week of being rear-ended by Lathrop's truck, Wilson shut down his business that employed twenty people, claiming he was unable to work, and moved from his marital home to his parents' home, where he was cared for by his mother. 

Wilson treated with two doctors who supported his injury claim and his need for medication, physical therapy and work restrictions.  The two involved insurers sent him to three defense medical examinations (incorrectly described as "independent medical exams") and these hand-selected doctors disputed the treaters' opinion that Wilson had suffered an auto-collision-related injury.  When he filed suit to pursue a claim, the trial judge held that Wilson had not demonstrated an "objective manifestation" of injury and his claim was summarily dismissed.

Wilson appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court.  The Court of Appeals panel (including Kirsten Frank Kelly, who virtually always votes in favor of insurers) agreed with Wilson that the lower court judge was wrong in holding that he had not demonstrated an objective manifestion.  Nevertheless, it upheld the summary disposition of Wilson's claim because the panel ruled that he had not documented that his lifestyle was "seriously impaired." 

In justifying the latter result, the Court apparently engaged in a credibility analysis which is not appropriate for summary disposition, since it noted that surveillance "located plaintiff at his wife's residence where he was observed performing basic tasks such as driving and running errands."  Apparently, no matter how badly you are hurt, if you remain capable of driving to the 7-11 for milk, you haven't suffered a "serious impairment of bodily function," and if an insurer seeks summary disposition, merely giving up your business and moving into a home with a full-time caregiver is not enough.  We don't know if Wilson was seriously hurt or not, but clearly if the jury chose to believe the evidence presented by his treaters and him, they could reasonably find that he did.  This is just another case of judicial activism on behalf of insurance companies.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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