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The gap between citizens and Michigan's judiciary

        The gap betweenthe sensibilities of Michigan citizens and the Michigan judiciary was exposed in the recent Barnett v. AutoOwners case.  In Barnett, the jury awarded the Plaintiff exemplary (or "punitive") damages in response to allegations of abuse she suffered at the hands of the case manager appointed by her auto insurer.  The plaintiff was very severely injured in a motor vehicle collision and claimed that she fought a constant battle with the case manager appointed by AutoOwners to manage her medical care.  Mrs. Barnett alleged that the case manager was inappropriately intruding on her privacy and medical care and interfering with her doctors' judgment in an effort to contain AutoOwners medical expenses.  After the Plaintiff died mid-litigation, the case was continued by her son to a verdict against the insurer.

        Applying the harsh standard imposed by the Michigan Supreme Court previously, the Court of Appeals overturned Barnett's verdict.  While each of the three judges offered a different explanation for their vote, the common denominator was an acknowledgement that the improper conduct by the Case Manager was not so repulsive as to meet the high standard imposed by the Michigan Supreme Court.  "The conduct complained [must be] so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community".  Sadly, we have arrived at a state where our judiciary either relieves the insurance insdustry of any duty, whatsoever, or holds it responsible only for behavior which is "outrageous...extreme...beyond all possible bounds of decency...atrocious and utterly intolerable".  Obviously, a typical Michigan jury would expect more from an insurer.  Justices elected with the financial support of insurers do not.

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