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Pelc v. North Star Ranch, Inc. (COA – UNP 2/21/2019; RB #3853)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 339635; Unpublished
Judges Borrello, Cavanagh, and Redford; per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion

Objective Manifestation Element of Serious Impairment (McCormick Era: 2010 - Present) [§3135(5)**]
Causation Issues [§3135(5)][§3135(5)]

Evidentiary Issues

In this unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion, summary disposition for defendant North Star Ranch, Inc. (“North Star”) was reversed on the issue of serious impairment of bodily function, because a question of fact existed as to whether the plaintiff James Pelc (“Pelc”) presented objectively manifest impairments under the McCormick standard. The Court further held that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to create a question of fact as to the causation element of his negligence claim

The Plaintiff in this case was rear-ended while driving a tractor belonging his employer, North Star. Following the accident, Pelc underwent a series of MRIs that revealed multiple herniated disks, including one at the C3-4 level which impinged a nerve root. After North Star denied PIP benefits for Pelc’s injuries, Pelc brought suit, alleging that these injuries constituted a serious impairment of bodily function under MCL 500.3135(5). North Star disagreed, arguing that “plaintiffs failed and could not establish that James suffered an ‘objectively manifested impairment . . .’”

The Court of Appeals disagreed, and held that “plaintiffs established through admissible evidence the existence of a genuine issue of material fact whether James suffered objectively manifested impairments as required under MCL 500.3135(5).” In reaching this conclusion, the Court reasoned:

The record reflects that James presented to his surgeon after the April 2015 accident with actual symptoms and conditions that the surgeon could observe and perceive as impairing James’s neck and other body functions. The record reflects that the surgeon considered James’s accident event, his post-accident symptoms, ordered tests, reviewed the MRIs, and observed in the MRI taken of James’s neck that a herniated disc at the C3-4 level existed. The surgeon reasoned that the disc herniation caused an impingement of a nerve root. That objectively manifested impairment explained the symptoms about which James complained regarding his persistent and severe neck and arm pain after the accident. The MRI of James’s lumbar spine showed herniated discs that were not previously observed or diagnosed. The record reflects that James’s surgeon opined, based on all the evidence before him, that the April 2015 accident caused new objectively verifiable physical conditions or worsened James’s preexisting conditions. Reviewing the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, plaintiffs have produced evidence, which if believed by the finder of fact, could establish James’s baseline condition just before the April 2015 accident.

Regarding the issue of causation, the Court found that a genuine issue of fact existed as to whether defendants’ conduct caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In reaching that conclusion, the court reasoned:

In this case, the record reflects that plaintiffs submitted substantial evidence in response to defendants’ motion from which a jury may conclude that, more likely than not, but for defendants’ conduct, plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred. The parties do not dispute that the April 2015 accident happened or the severity of it. The record reflects that plaintiffs submitted evidence establishing a logical sequence of cause and effect showing that the rear-end crash inflicted injuries on James’s cervical spine, lumbar spine, and head. James’s medical records and his surgeon’s testimony supported their contention that, but for the rear-end accident, more likely than not, James would not have experienced the severity of his symptoms. The surgeon testified that James’s injuries were consistent with the type of injuries suffered by persons who had rear-end motor vehicle accidents, and based on James’s medical history, the accident event, and James’s post-accident problems, he concluded that the April 2015 accident caused new injuries or exacerbated any preexisting conditions. We conclude that the evidence plaintiffs presented established a genuine issue of fact whether defendants’ conduct served as the cause in fact of James’s injuries.

The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

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