Previously disabled man can maintain serious impairment claim after suffering fracture and disc injuriesJeffrey M. Chase was granted Social Security Disability in 2005 because of on-going severe depression and anxiety. As part of the SSD application process, he acknowledged that he suffered from arthritis in his back and that on many days when his depression was severe, he did not leave his home or engage in any meaningful activity. In December of that year, a car driven by Alyssa K. Pomilia crossed the centerline of Clinton River Road and struck the Chase family's car head-on. Chase did not seek help for several days, but when he did go to the E.R., a fractured collar bone was diagnosed. Chase also complained of back pain, however, no definitive testing and diagnosis was accomplished until after several months of deterioration. In February of 2007, however, after Chase's pain had forced him to give up walking, an MRI was performed and indicated two herniated discs and three bulging discs. His two treating doctors attributed these injuries to the motor vehicle collision, surgical fusion was performed, and the doctors confirmed that Chase would suffer permanent pain and restriction of activity. Chase filed a lawsuit against the other driver for non-economic damages.
On motion of the defendants' insurer, the trial court ruled that since Chase was already disabled, he could not have suffered a "serious impairment of bodily function." Relying on the "life-altering" language in the Kreiner decision authored by the Engler Majority of Michigan's Supreme Court, the trial judge essentially ruled that after his Social Security determination, Chase had nothing left to lose.
On appeal, a majority of the Court of Appeals rejected this analysis. While Judge Christopher Murray would have upheld the dismissal, the majority concluded that a fair and thorough analysis of Chase's record confirmed that the motor vehicle collision injuries constituted a real change in Chase's life. He suffered progressive pain that ultimately rendered him unable to walk and in need of extensive surgery. After the surgery, he was confined to a walker for three months. His doctors agreed that he would endure life-long pain and restrictions on activity because of the collision injuries. Chase and his family confirmed that where before he had intermittently suffered depression-related episodes of inactivity and poor quality of life, after suffering the spinal injuries, his disability was complete and uninterrupted. On that basis, the majority judges concluded that he had demonstrated a "serious injury." We think ordinary, fair and objective voters and jurors would agree almost unanimously.