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Spleen injuries and "serious impairment"

When the Engler Majority of the Michigan Supreme Court jacked up the proof required to document a "serious impairment of bodily function" under the no fault act, one group of victims denied compensation was composed of people who suffered injuries to the spleen.  In a number of cases, Michigan courts applying the "life-altering injury" standard engrafted on the threshold by insurance activists had held that a victim's spleen injury was not "serious," even if it resulted in a major operation and removal of the spleen.  Recent medical research has documented the short-sighted unfairness of these decisions.

    It has long been recognized that the spleen plays an important role in responding to certain traumatic infections.  For example, dog bite victims without a spleen are at great risk from the dangers of dog flora 2, or DF2, a germ common to dog saliva and potentially fatal if not rapidly treated.   The Harvard Medical School recently published a study that helped explain this danger and also confirmed additional risks of a splenectomy.

    The study found that the spleen is a reservoir for  enormous numbers of monocytes, immune system white blood cells that act as a "standing army" to respond to serious trauma.  The Harvard study found that the spleen releases monocytes into the blood stream in response to gashing wounds, microbial invasion and also heart attacks.  Although the large white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, they are stored in the spleen. 

    Previous studies had shown that splenectomy patients were twice as likely to die of cardiovascular disease, however, scientists had not been able to document how spleen removal played a role in these deaths.  In fact, the spleen was seen by many established medical experts as something of vestigial organ like the appendix, even subject to prophylactic removal.  Researchers looking for the repository of monocytes, the body's largest infection-fighting white blood cells, recently determined, however, that they are deposited in the spleen's noncapillary circulatory system, where they lie dormant until a trauma occurs.  Perhaps with the benefit of this new medical research, the traumatic loss of a spleen will no longer be treated in Michigan as though it were a "minor" injury.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
Fax: 231-929-7262