Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #357982; Unpublished
Judges Murray, Cavanagh, and Cameron; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Causation Issues [§3135]
Underinsured Motorist Coverage in General
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s partial summary disposition order in favor of Plaintiff George Whitney, in Whitney’s action for underinsured motorist coverage against Defendant Grange Insurance Company of Michigan. The Court of Appeals held that a question of fact existed as to whether Whitney’s alleged impairments were caused by the subject motor vehicle collision.
George Whitney was injured in a motor vehicle collision on December 7, 2017. The day after the collision, he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with two broken ribs, all while denying any head or neck pain and being found to have full range of motion in his neck. Three months after the collision, Whitney returned to the doctor with complaints of neck soreness, pain in his left hand, loss of muscle in his right shoulder, arm, and forearm, and left hip pain. Imaging studies revealed multilevel degenerative disc disease, for which Whitney eventually underwent surgery.
After the surgery, Whitney sought underinsured motorist coverage from Grange—the insurer of his work vehicle that he was driving at the time of the collision—against whom he ultimately filed suit. Shortly after filing suit, both Whitney and Grange moved for summary disposition on the issue of causation. Grange noted that none of the numerous doctors Whitney saw after the accident linked his neck injury to the crash, and that the only two doctors who offered an opinion on the issue of causation—one a treating physician and one an insurance medical examiner—stated that they could not determine whether Whitney’s neck injuries were caused by the collision. The insurance medical examiner, in particular, noted that it ‘would be extremely peculiar’ for Whitney to have sustained a neck injury in the crash but not noticed any symptoms until more than three months later. Nevertheless, the trial court granted partial summary disposition in Whitney’s favor.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order, holding that a question of fact existed on the issue of causation, especially considering Whitney “provided no medical opinion that establishes a definitive causal link between the accident and his claimed injuries.” The mere fact that he received treatment for his degenerative cervical spine condition after the collision, the Court noted, was not sufficient to establish causation as a matter of law, given the conflicting evidence in the form of the insurance medical examiner’s report.
“During these proceedings in the trial court, plaintiff argued in his motion for partial summary disposition that no factual dispute existed—he suffered a serious impairment of body function caused by the accident. His medical conditions, including neck and right arm issues, were diagnosed and treated after the accident. However, plaintiff did not definitively establish a causal link between the accident and his medical conditions. To determine whether injuries were caused, or preexisting conditions aggravated, by the accident, we must look to medical expert opinions. Lay testimony from plaintiff stating that there is a causal link is insufficient to establish that there is a causal link between the accident and his claimed injuries. See, e.g., Howard v Feld, 100 Mich App 271, 273; 298 NW2d 722 (1980). The fact that plaintiff received medical treatment for his degenerative cervical spine condition—as it was termed in several medical reports—after the accident does not necessarily mean the condition was caused, or aggravated, by the accident. Plaintiff has directed us to no medical opinion that establishes a definitive causal link between the accident and his claimed injuries. While plaintiff self-reported that he suffered injuries in the accident and has various issues, none of his physicians present a definitive opinion on medical causation. As the moving party, plaintiff had the initial burden of supporting his causation argument with documentary evidence. See Quinto, 451 Mich at 362. And in considering a motion for summary disposition, evidence must be viewed in a light most favorable to defendant as the nonmoving party. See Walsh, 263 Mich App at 621. Plaintiff simply failed to establish that no factual dispute exists on the issue of causation for the trier of fact to resolve. Moreover, questions regarding preexisting conditions, and the potential aggravation of the same, are generally left to the jury. See Wilkinson, 463 Mich at 397-398.
In summary, the trial court erred in granting plaintiff’s motion for partial summary disposition on the issue of whether plaintiff sustained a serious impairment of a body function that was caused by the motor-vehicle accident. Plaintiff provided no medical opinion that establishes a definitive causal link between the accident and his claimed injuries. Considering Dr. Boike’s somewhat equivocal conclusions, and other statements made in plaintiff’s medical records, the issue whether plaintiff’s claimed medical conditions were caused by the accident should be resolved by the trier of fact, and not as a matter of law. See Wilkinson, 463 Mich at 397-398; Holton v A+ Ins Assoc, Inc, 255 Mich App 318, 326; 661 NW2d 248 (2003).”