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Henderson v State Farm Auto Ins Co (COA – UNP 12/4/2018; RB #3820) 

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 338349; Unpublished
Judges O’Brien, Tukel, and Letica per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING:
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of / Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]

TOPICAL INDEXING:
Intervention by Service Providers and Third Party Payors in PIP Claims


SUMMARY:

In this unanimous per curiam opinion the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary disposition regarding Plaintiff Willis Henderson’s (“Henderson”) failure to demonstrate a causal relationship between his injury and his motor vehicle accident.  The Court of Appeals found that a reasonable fact finder could find a connection between the accident and Henderson’s injuries because two doctors stated that there was a connection between the two.

Henderson was involved in a motor vehicle accident in 2014. Henderson claimed that he was traveling in the left lane of a two-lane roadway when he was sideswiped by an unidentified vehicle passing him on the left in the median lane. Henderson did not feel any immediate pain, but he did feel like he was going to pass out and his mouth did not feel right. Henderson drove home and when he met his fiancé at home she noticed something was not right. Henderson’s speech was slurred, and he had parked in the grass of their home. Henderson had in fact suffered an ischemic stroke.

Henderson received substantial medical care from co-Plaintiff Irvine Head Injury, Inc. (“Irvine”). Defendant State Farm Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) stopped paying Henderson’s first party PIP benefits and Henderson brought an action for the benefits. Irvine motioned to intervene as a co-Plaintiff as well, which was granted despite Henderson’s objection. State Farm introduced the testimony of Dr. Brian Kirschner who opined that the stroke was not caused by the motor vehicle accident. Henderson however introduced the testimony of Dr. Peter Gumma and Dr. David Frecker who opined that the that the accident had caused the stroke. State Farm motioned for summary disposition arguing that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding the causal relationship between the accident and the stroke. It argued that Dr. Gumma’s opinion should not be regarded because he is not a neurologist and Dr. Frecker’s opinion should be disregarded because he said that it was rare for an accident like this to cause a stroke. The trial court granted summary disposition and Plaintiffs appealed.

The Court found that a reasonable fact finder could find a genuine issue of material fact regarding causation because of the various medical opinions that disagreed in that matter. The Court explained that the lower court cited no authority for discounting Dr. Gumma’s testimony because he was not a neurologist. The Court then explained that even though Dr. Frecker opined that it was rare for a stroke like this to happen under these circumstances, he believed that it did in fact occur. The Court found that the trial court had made a credibility determination and as such its order for summary disposition must be reversed.

“However, we hold that such determinations are for a fact-finder to decide. First, defendant supplies no authority in support of its view that Dr. Gumma’s opinion was inadequate because he was not a neurologist specialist. In any event, Dr. Frecker was a neurologist. And while Dr. Frecker opined that it was exceedingly rare for a car accident to cause a stroke, that is precisely what he said happened in this case. In giving the benefit of the doubt to the nonmoving party, Cowles, 476 Mich at 32, we conclude that reasonable minds could differ on the issue of causation. The trial court improperly made a credibility and factual determination when it found that plaintiff’s stroke was not caused by the motor vehicle accident.”

The Court also granted Henderson’s motion to remove Irvine from the action. The Court agreed with Henderson that Covenant Med Ctr, Inc, v State Farm Mut Auto Ins Co, 500 Mich 191, 218; 895 NW2d 490 (2017), barred Irvine because it asserted an independent cause of action.

Thus, the Court ultimately overturned the trial court’s order for summary disposition and dismissed Irvine from the action.

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