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Woman with severe PTSD and depression after husband's death and witnessing another death hasn't suffered "serious impairment."

Frances Overweg's husband died in a car accident on October 31, 2008.  Incredibly, on that same day, she was driving southbound on US-131 when another vehicle crossed the centerline, narrowly missed her, and struck the motorist's car directly behind her.  She stopped to help but the victim, trapped in the debris, died when she was unable to remove the debris that was crushing him.  To no one's particular surprise, Ms. Overweg developed Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and severe depression. She filed a lawsuit against the young man who caused the collision alleging that she had suffered a "serious impairment of bodily function." 

In 2011, the Kent County judge summarily dismissed her claim, holding that under the no fault law, her severe emotional disturbance did not meet the threshold that would allow her to sue the at-fault driver.  She appealed and the higher court's decision came down on May 9.

Judge Christopher Murray out-did himself this week in writing his opinion on the case.  A Republican appointee who rules in favor of insurance companies in virtually every case, Murray this week wrote an opinion that none of the other judges on the panel would sign.  It upholds the dismissal of Overweg's claim, based in part on the fact that Overweg's impairments are not "objectively manifested."  Although she has been diagnosed with PTSD, sleep deprivation, flashbacks, nightmares, heightened anxiety, loss of appetite, heightened startle response and diminished appetite [all of which the Defendants conceded] Murray concluded that these problems did "not establish that a particular body function has been affected."

Overweg's psychiatrist concluded that she suffered from a severe mental disturbance with psychiatric problems that "interfere with her daily life, including loss of sleep, phobia, anxiety, isolation, hyperarousal, avoidance, flashbacks, disattachment, and loss of concentration," and that she exhibited "physical manifestations resulting from PTSD, including crying, trembling, and being startled," [again, stipulated by Defendants].  Nevertheless, for Judge Murray, these manifestations, confirmed by a psychiatrist, did not establish that a particular body function was affected.

Incredibly, Judge Murray concluded that although the testimony of treaters and others documented severe emotional and behavioral changes, the testimony did not document that a particular body function was affected because she hadn't demonstrated that these problems "affected her ability to lead her normal life."  A lot of GIs returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD could certainly dispute that incredible conclusion.  Murray based it on the fact that she didn't have medical restrictions on driving and could still work part-time, according to her doctors.  To quote Murray:  she "continues to read and comprehend various books, can organize and communicate her thoughts and feelings to other people, can agree to social plans, keeps her doctors' appointments, and does not require assistance in daily household chores or handling her finances."  What more could a person ask from life?

Sadly, although she would not sign on to Murray's opinion, another judge agreed with the conclusion he reached.  The third judge, to her credit, pointed out that Murray was "not seeing the forest for the trees."  She pointed out that "the overwhelming testimony in this case is that Frances Overweg's life changed dramatically because she suffered from PTSD" and that no one disputed either the facts or the cause.  She also noted that precedent argued in favor of Overweg and that she was wrongly being denied her day in court by "over-complex legal analysis...of a fairly simply worded statute."  This is justice in a state dominated by special interest money.

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