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Loving v Scaggs (COA - UNP; 12/21/2017; RB # 3697)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 333582; Unpublished
Judges Talbot, Borrello and Riordan; Unanimous, Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion 


STATUTORY INDEXING:
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of/Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]
Allowable Expenses for Medical Treatment [§3107(1)(a)] 


TOPICAL INDEXING:
Not Applicable 


CASE SUMMARY:
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion involving claims for auto negligence and first-party no-fault benefits, the Court of Appeals held the trial court improperly granted summary disposition to defendant-insurer and defendant-driver because there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether plaintiff’s injuries arose from the motor vehicle accident, as required by MCL 500.3105(1).

In January 2014, plaintiff was injured in an accident with defendant-Scaggs. Plaintiff was taken to the hospital after the collision, where she complained of neck pain. At the hospital, it was determined that plaintiff had “whiplash or cervical strain.” Plaintiff awoke the next day with back pain and saw her primary care physician. In March 2014, plaintiff received a CT scan of her lumbar spine, which showed that she had a “nondisplaced, nonhealed fracture involving the inferior articular process on the right at L2, and with extension into the right L2-L-3 facet joint.” Plaintiff received follow-up treatment and, in September 2014, Dr. Stephen Bartol performed surgery on plaintiff’s lower back.

At deposition, plaintiff testified that before the January 2014 collision, she had not been involved in any other car accident, had not had any slip and fall accidents requiring medical care and never had any broken bones. She also testified that she never had any back pain or treatment prior to the January 2014 car accident. In March 2015, plaintiff filed this action for negligence against defendant-Scaggs and for underinsured and first-party no-fault benefits against defendant-USAA. Defendant-USAA moved for summary disposition regarding bills related to plaintiff’s back surgery, alleging the surgery was performed to fuse a fracture that predated the January 2014 accident and it was not liable for paying plaintiff’s medical bills. Defendant-Scaggs also moved for summary disposition, asserting that plaintiff’s lumbar fracture predated the January 2014 collision and was not exacerbated by the accident.

The trial court granted defendants’ motions for summary disposition. With respect to defendant-Scaggs, the trial court ruled the undisputed evidence did not support that Scaggs’ actions were the “cause-in-fact” of plaintiff’s back injury. With respect to defendant-USAA, the trial court held that plaintiff “failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact that the fracture was either caused by or exacerbated by the motor vehicle accident ….” The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration. Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. Regarding defendant-USAA, the Court of Appeals found the trial court’s ruling was based on a finding that the accident did not cause or exacerbate plaintiff’s lower back fracture. Citing MCL 500.3105, the Court noted that there “must be a causal connection between the injury sustained and the ownership, maintenance or use of the automobile and which causal connection is more than incidental, fortuitous or but for.” The Court then pointed to the fact that plaintiff sought treatment for lower back pain the day after the collision and the results of a CT scan indicated that plaintiff had a lower back fracture. The Court further noted there was evidence that plaintiff was not experiencing any symptoms or receiving treatment for her lower back before the January 2014 accident, and that plaintiff’s 2010 medical records indicated her treatment at that time was related to headaches, abdominal pain and nausea – not her lower back. The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s grant of summary disposition.

“A reasonable jury could [...] find that the motor vehicle accident aggravated the condition in plaintiff’s lower back. … Here, reasonable minds could differ regarding the extent of any preexisting condition that plaintiff may have had in the lumbar region of her spine and the extent to which the motor vehicle accident may have caused either a new injury or the exacerbation of a preexisting condition with respect to plaintiff’s lumbar spine. Therefore, the trial court erred by granting USAA’s partial summary disposition motion because there exists genuine issues of material fact regarding whether plaintiff’s lower back injury arose out of the motor vehicle accident.”

The Court also found that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding causation for defendant Scaggs. The Court cited to Loweke v Ann Arbor Ceiling & Partition Co, LLC, 489 Mich 157, 162; 809 NW2d 553 (2011), and explained that a negligence claim requires a showing of proximate causation. The Court then explained that a jury could reasonably conclude that any preexisting back pain was aggravated by the motor vehicle accident. The Court further noted that there was a logical “cause and effect” relationship that a reasonable jury could find.

“The evidence shows a ‘logical sequence of cause and effect’ rather than a mere coincidental relationship. … Additionally, the trial court focused only on plaintiff’s lower back injuries and ignored the evidence that plaintiff was diagnosed with ‘whiplash or cervical strain’ immediately following the accident. Based on the record evidence, a reasonable jury could conclude that it was more likely than not that plaintiff would not have suffered neck injuries or any aggravation to a preexisting lower back condition if not for Scaggs’ conduct, and back and neck injuries are a foreseeable result of a driver’s negligence in causing a motor vehicle accident. Therefore, the trial court erred because there exists genuine issues of material fact regarding the cause in fact of plaintiff’s injuries.”


Lansing car accident lawyer 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 SinasDramis.com.

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