Previously disabled injury victim can maintain "serious impairment" claim from second injury
Michigan no fault insurers have enjoyed a field day, summarily dismissing significant injury claims because they occurred to people who had already suffered a different, relatively serious injury. This trend has been reversed somewhat, and the Tipton v. Lang decision helps to illustrate why. The three Court of Appeals judges in Tipton unanimously pointed to prior decisions recognizing the relative importance of particular activities and bodily functions, where a broad range of activity or function has previously been lost.
Tipton suffered a herniated disc in his neck, and a vetebral fusion, after Donna Lang's broad-sided his car at an intersection. Lang's insurer did not argue fault, but it claimed that since Tipton had been disabled from employment since 1993 due to a lumbar injury, he could not suffer a "serious impairment" that "altered the course or trajectory of his life". Lang's insurer also argued that any life changes suffered by Tipton resulted from pain and therefore could not be considered by the court.
The trial judge had granted Lang's insurer summary disposition, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that whether his new injuries constituted a "serious impairment" was a question for the jury. The judges noted that Tipton's doctor had restricted his activities in accordance with the pain he experienced, and that Tipton claimed to sleep only in a recliner now, and for no more than 2-3 hours at a time. They also emphasized that while his activities were severely restricted due to the 1993 lumbar injury, he documented a claimed change resulting from this accident involving giving up volunteering activities, fishing, driving, sexual relations and sleeping arrangements. It explained "Indeed, given that Tipton's life was already limited by his previous accidnet, one might reasonably infer that the activites that remained to him were even more important than they might have been before his work injury....an injury that a completely health person might deem minor could, perhaps nonintuitively, have a tremendous relative impact on a person who already has limited mobility."[emph. in original]