The lame-duck Supreme Court wrestles with a second-injury serious impairment
Justice Taylor will be gone from the Michigan Supreme Court in less than a month, and with him goes the majority he relied upon to raise the threshold for demonstrating a "serious impairment of bodily function" in the Kreiner case. In essence, Taylor grafted a "life-altering" test on top of the legislative language defining a serious injury. On his way out the door, however, Taylor took one more swing at injury victims, in an attempt to bar motor vehicle accident claims. In Benefiel v. Auto Owners, Taylor and his short-lived majority overturned a Court of Appeals' panel's decision that injury victim Benefiel suffered a serious impairment in the [second] motor vehicle accident where he was injured.
The Court of Appeals had held that despite the injuries he suffered prior to this second collision, Benefiel's subsequent injuries were so severe as to constitute a serious impairment of life-altering consequence. The Engler Four rejected this holding and suggested that in order to recover for a serious impairment in the second collision, Benefiel had to demonstrate that his injuries from the first incident were only temporary.
In other words, the Engler majority would hold that under no circumstances can a person suffer two "serious impairments" in one lifetime, unless the recovery from the first serious injury is complete and the initial disability only temporary. Anyone suffering a permanent serious injury would be forever precluded from suffering a second "serious impairment", regardless of the seriousness of the latter injuries or their consequences. The reasoning underlying this holding is so patently absurd that this holding will not be recognized after the Engler Four loses its majority status: there is nothing in the no fault act that would suggest that a person with one form of permanent serious injury cannot later suffer still another permanent serious injury--if his luck is bad enough. Poor Benefiel not only had the bad luck to suffer two serious injuries, he also had the bad luck to reach the Supreme Court in the month before it would have regained a measure of sanity.