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Multiple fractures in lower spine constitute "serious impairment:" AutoOwners must pay

Jake Vielstra suffered multiple fractures in his lower spine when the driver of the car he was in accidently rolled it several times.  She had only $20,000.00 in coverage, which her insurer promptly offered to pay Vielstra.  After complying with AutoOwner's settlement restrictions, Vielstra took that money and filed an Underinsured Motorist claim against AutoOwners (his own carrier).  AutoOwners declined to pay any settlement, maintaining that Vielstra did not suffer a "serious impairment of bodily function." 

Relying on the "life-altering" language in the Kreiner case, the trial court dismissed Vielstra's claim, however, the Court of Appeals reversed.  It pointed to the fact that Vielstra was severely restricted in his activities for 3 months, and then forced to modify his active, vigorous lifestyle and give up most of his recreational activities in response to his injuries: "We would not lightly dismiss such a fundamental reduction in a person's lifestyle."  The Court also noted that his lifting restriction would probably play a role in his career choice, manufacturing engineering technology.

Judge Michael Talbot disagreed with the majority and would have denied Vielstra any compensation.  He suggested that since Vielstra "retained the ability to perform his own self-care," and since his doctor wrote "only 'pain-based' restrictions" on work and school, and the injury didn't change his educational or career choices, Vielstra's injury wasn't a "serious impairment." Talbot's reasoning reflects the impact of the Kreiner case, where insurance-favoring activist Justices "amended" the statute to raise the legislative threshold for compensation from "serious" injuries to "catastrophic" injuries.  Thank goodness, it appears this reasoning is no longer in the majority.

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