Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 216792;
Judges Cavanagh, Talbot and Meter; Unanimous
MTLA File No. OP-1495-5. Link to Opinion
Allowable Expenses for Rehabilitation [3107(1)(a)]
Rehabilitation Act of 1964 (MCL 395.81 Et Seq.)
In this unanimous published opinion, written by Judge Meter involving a case of first impression, the Court of Appeals ruled that the obligation of a no-fault insurance company under section 3107(1)(a) to pay for “rehabilitation” did not include paying for on-the-job support services rendered to plaintiff after plaintiff returned to his pre-accident occupation. The plaintiff in this case was a lawyer engaged in a sole practice. Plaintiff sustained a severe brain injury in an automobile accident but was eventually able to return to his law practice. However, because of significant ongoing impairments, plaintiff’s physicians recommended that plaintiff receive certain on-the-job assistance in performing necessary tasks related to his law practice, including opening files, reviewing the mail, scheduling client appointments, typing correspondence, filing, paying bills, bookkeeping, computer record functions and other clerical tasks, all of which plaintiff performed himself before his accident. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision that these on-the-job support services were not covered by the term “rehabilitation” as used in section 3107(1)(a). In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the word “rehabilitation” as used in the no-fault statute should be defined in exactly the same way as the term “vocational rehabilitation” as used in federal and state rehabilitation statutes, including MCL 395.82 or 29 USC 723(a). In rejecting this argument, the Court of Appeals held that the statutory term “rehabilitation” as used in the no-fault statute should be given its ordinary meaning as reflected in typical dictionary definitions. In this regard, the American Heritage Dictionary (New College Ed., 1985), defines rehabilitation as “to restore (a handicapped or delinquent person) to useful life through education and therapy.” Moreover, the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 2nd Ed., 1997, defines rehabilitate as “to restore or bring to a condition of good health, ability to work, or productive activity.” Relying upon the Court of Appeals’ earlier decision in Bailey v DAIIE [Item No. 838] and the Attorney General’s Opinion, 1983, No. 6129 [Item No. 655], the court held that the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary definition of “rehabilitate” is applicable to the No-Fault Act. Based upon these dictionary definitions, the trial court correctly ruled that the services in dispute “were not preparing him for future employment, but rather furthering his present employment.” Thus, they were not compensable as rehabilitation benefits under section 3107(1)(a) of the No-Fault Act. The court concluded by limiting the decision to the facts of this particular case, and stated:
“In the instant case, the nature of plaintiff’s practice is somewhat different from its nature before the accident. However, he has been able to return to work, and to do so successfully, earning over $100,000 a year. Given plaintiff’s ability to perform remunerative work, we hold that under the specific circumstances of this case, the claimed expenses are not compensable under the no-fault act as vocational rehabilitation services.”
The court expressed no opinion whether the claimed expenses were compensable as wage loss benefits under section 3107(1)(b). Moreover, in a footnote, the court also stated that the claimed expenses did not qualify as expenses for “care” or “recovery” as those terms are used in section 3107(1)(a).