Eight years ago, Barbara Jean Ross had the misfortune of colliding with a Michigan State Trooper.
If colliding with a law officer weren't misfortune enough, Ms. Ross was forced to give up golf as she could no longer play without pain.
Seeking recovery for her injuries, Ms. Ross was confronted with her home state of Michigan's "no fault" law, which largely abolishes tort liability except when "the injured person has suffered a serious impairment of body function." Under Michigan law "a serious impairment of body function" can be deemed to occur when the impairment "affects the person's general ability to lead his or her normal life."
Ms. Ross's legal goal, therefore, was to convince a court that the removal of golf from her life constituted a sufficient deprivation that she should be permitted to pursue a claim for damages. Unfortunately for Ms. Ross, the lower court judge showed little sympathy. As he stated, in dismissing her case,
"The fact that she has chosen to abandon golf because of some minor pain is her choice. It doesn't appear to me that she couldn't play golf. It appears that she doesn't want to go through any kind of additional pain, and if she had such serious pain, I think she would require a lot more therapy, she would be on pain pills, she would be on cold compress, I'd hear a whole lot more, and I'm not."
Ms. Ross appealed the decision, and, last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 vote, overruled the lower court and reinstated Ms. Ross's claim. In the majority opinion, the court explained that the lower court's job was not to assess Ms. Ross's tolerance for pain, because, by doing so, he effectively was deciding whether she was, in fact, impaired. Such a factual question was for the jury, not the judge, to decide. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals sent the case back for trial.
A dissenting opinion, written by the Honorable Kurtis T. Wilder, expressed a different view. According to Judge Wilde, before the accident, Ms. Ross only played golf approximately once a month during the summer months, or, as he characterized it, "a handful of times per year." Such a loss, in his view, was insufficient to destroy her "general ability to lead....her normal life." Judge Wilder distinguished Ms. Ross's situation from an earlier case where, due to injuries, a golfer who played 2-3 times a week, was no longer able to do so.
As noted, Judge Wilder expressed the dissenting view. The majority of the court, therefore, has concluded that golf, even in small quantities, is an important component of a normal life. Something that all of us knew already.