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Aldape v Baldwin (COA – UNP 5/10/2018; RB #3749)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 336255; Unpublished
Judges Cavanagh, Stephens, Swartzle; per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion 

Evidentiary Issues [§3135]
Causation Issues [§3135]


In this unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary disposition to Defendant Emily Baldwin (“Baldwin”) regarding her third-party negligence. The Court upheld the trial court because it found that there was insufficient evidence to establish Plaintiff Diane Aldape’s (“Aldape”) injuries were connected to the motor vehicle accident.

Aldape and Baldwin were involved in a minor auto accident where Baldwin rear-ended Aldape’s car. Aldape refused medical assistance at the scene and then drove to a counseling appointment she had previously made. At the counseling appointment Aldape complained of back pain and the staff urged her to go to urgent care, which she did after picking her children from school. At the urgent care, Aldape complained of lower back and neck pain; however, the examining doctor could find nothing wrong with her neurologically. The doctor prescribed her pain medications and offered her X-rays, which she refused. Aldape sought treatment from a chiropractor, Dr. Richard Stanley, who referred Aldape to Dr. Peter Grain. Dr. Grain performed an MRI on Aldape that revealed she was suffering from a straightening of her spinal curvature and disc bulges.

Subsequently, Aldape brought an action for negligence against Baldwin. After discovery, Baldwin moved for summary disposition after evidence was found that Aldape had suffered from similar injuries in 2011, before the accident with Baldwin. To counter the motion for summary disposition, Aldape introduced the expert testimony of Dr. Grain and Dr. Stanley who explained that the injuries were “more likely” related to trauma and it was likely the accident was the cause of the injuries. However, neither doctor knew about Aldape’s pre-existing injuries and the trial court refused to admit the evidence. The trial court then found that Aldape failed to rebut Baldwin’s claim that her injuries were unrelated to the accident. Aldape appealed arguing that the trial court incorrectly dismissed the opinions of Dr. Grain and Dr. Stanley.[1]

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s grant of summary disposition. The Court first explained that there must be a threshold showing of causation under MCL 500.3135(2)(a)(i) for a third-party negligence action. The Court then explained that trial court’s refusal to hear evidence is reviewed for abuse of discretion and under MRE 702 the trial court can refuse to hear evidence if the testimony of an expert is based on insufficient facts. Here, Dr. Grain and Dr. Stanley were unaware of the prior injuries to Aldape’s back. The trial court concluded that the two doctors had insufficient factual basis to make a fully informed decision, and accordingly it refused to admit their evidence. The Court of Appeals reasoned that this was solid reasoning and the trial court did not abuse its discretion under MRE 702 when it refused to rely on the evidence.

The Court then explained Baldwin had presented significant amounts of evidence to show that Aldape had a pre-existing condition and the burden shifted to Aldape to refute the issue in some significant manner. Without the testimony of Dr. Stanley and Dr. Grain, the Court explained that there was no sufficient basis to refute Baldwin’s evidence. Thus, there was no genuine issue of material fact and summary disposition was proper. Without any sufficient causation, Aldape could not support her third-party negligence action against Baldwin.

“On appeal, plaintiff argues that her expert testimony would be admissible at trial despite the fact that her doctor’s deposition testimony was not based on a reliable history. Plaintiff takes issue with the fact that defendant never showed the 2011 MRI to her doctors during their depositions and essentially argues that her doctors could render an accurate opinion at trial if provided with the pre-accident MRI. Yet, plaintiff’s argument ignores the fact that she held the burden, both under MCR 2.116(C)(10) and MRE 702, to show that her doctors’ opinions would be reliable. Indeed, discovery was still open at the time defendant’s motion for summary disposition was filed. Plaintiff could have provided the doctors with a copy of the 2011 MRI and obtained further sworn testimony indicating whether the doctors’ opinions would have changed if they had been aware of plaintiff’s pre-accident back and neck injuries. Because plaintiff did not do so, she failed to meet her burden to show that Dr. Stanley’s and Dr. Grain’s testimonies would be admissible at trial and failed to meet her burden to show that a genuine issue of material fact existed with regard to whether the 2012 auto accident caused her injuries.”

The Court therefore upheld summary disposition for Baldwin.

[1] A third doctor, Dr. Johnson, is briefly mentioned, but the opinion makes it clear that only Dr. Stanley and Dr. Grain’s testimony was refused by the trial court.

Michigan auto accident attorney Stephen Sinas is the lead editor of the appellate case summaries published on this site regarding the Michigan auto insurance law. To learn more about how Stephen Sinas and how the Sinas Dramis Law Firm can help you if you have been injured in a Michigan auto accident, visit

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