Jessica Dillon understands better than most that the wheels of justice grind slowly.
When Dillon was struck by a car in 2008, she had no idea it would lead to a far-reaching auto-insurance decision in the Michigan Supreme Court nine years later. Dillon was returning to her dorm on Central Michigan University’s campus when a car failed to notice her and a friend in the crosswalk, crashing into them.
“Since it was our first weekend on campus, there were several police officers nearby who saw it happen. When my body propelled off the vehicle, it looked like I did a cartwheel and a flip off the car—I remember the police chief asking if I was a gymnast,” Dillon recounted.
Dillon suffered multiple abrasions to her back and left shoulder, and had lower back pain at the time, she thought those were her only injuries. A family member reported the back and shoulder injuries to their insurance agent, who in turn relayed that information to Dillon’s no-fault insurer, State Farm.
State Farm opened a claim to address her back and shoulder injuries in 2008, and the matter seemed relatively settled for Dillon and her family. However, more than a year later Dillon unexpectedly developed severe hip pain, the cause for which, would go unsolved for years.
“When I was in college, I’d have to use a bag of frozen vegetables to numb my hip on my way to class so I wouldn’t have to keep missing class or take pain medicine during class,” Dillon said.
Dillon spent more than two years in pain before a doctor was able to trace her problems to her 2008 accident. After months of physical therapy that seemed to cause more suffering than relief, she was diagnosed with a torn labrum, the ring of cartilage that follows the outside rim of the socket of the hip joint. The previous months of therapy had actually aggravated the torn labrum further. Dillon’s injury required surgery and multiple rounds of physical therapy.
Less Pain, More Headache
While the additional treatment was able to fix her physical pain, it led to a whole new financial headache for Dillon. Although the surgeon testified that her hip pain and resulting surgery was connected to her 2008 accident, State Farm refused to cover the additional medical bills. They argued Dillon failed to report her hip injury within one year of her accident – per Michigan statute MCL 500.3145. This despite the fact that the surgeon also explained that Dillon’s initial back pain was likely the early signs of her torn hip labrum.
The statute reads that “written notice of injury…has been given to the insurer within one year after the accident,” and that such notice shall “give the name and address of the claimant and indicate…the name of the person injured and the time, place and nature of his injury.”
For Patrick Richards, Dillon’s attorney, the case seemed like a no-brainer. Dillon’s original notice was adequate because it advised State Farm of the known injuries at the time and the statute required nothing more.
“Dillon was unable to report her hip injury within one year of her accident because she had no idea she had a hip injury to begin with,” Richards concluded. It even took medical professionals years to really figure out the problem. State Farm’s position was unreasonable because the notice they were demanding would have been impossible to give.
“It becomes a hair-splitting contest. As a victim, do I have to specify what body part is injured or do I indicate where I’m feeling pain? Sometimes those answers aren’t the same. At a certain point, I’ll just report that I’m feeling pain in my whole body,” said Richards.
Let the courts decide…
Initially, the courts agreed with Dillon’s argument. The Isabella County Circuit Court denied State Farm’s motion to dismiss the case and a jury later ruled in Dillon’s favor. In May 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision.
“The fact that they received notice that she suffered physical injuries in a motor vehicle accident was sufficient to satisfy the statute,” the Court of Appeals opinion reads.
However, the Michigan Supreme Court didn’t see eye-to-eye with the lower courts’ rulings and wished to put there own stamp on the issue.
In November 2017, after hearing oral arguments, the high court affirmed the original Circuit Court’s decision, ruling that Dillon’s notice was sufficient and her claim should be covered based on doctor testimony that the hip injury was related to her initially-reported lower back injury. However, they vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision for focusing on the words “notice of injury,” which might not require some description of the nature of the injury from a claimant.
The ruling in Dillon’s favor has provided her with peace of mind and vindicates her and Richards’ decision to fight her insurer. Dillon graduated from Central Michigan University in 2012, and went on to receive her Master’s degree in speech pathology in 2014. Now, she works as a speech and language pathologist at a school in Lansing while studying to become an integrative health coach.
“At the end of the day, I just wanted my medical bills to be covered. I spent years being miserable because not only was I in extreme pain, but I had debt collectors hounding me for my medical bills. It was a really overwhelming experience, but I’m so thankful I went through it with the team at Gray, Sowle, and Iacco,” said Dillon.
Richards said he is proud to have obtained a successful outcome on Dillon’s behalf.
“Not every medical problem is diagnosed within a year, which means not every specific injury can be reported to insurance companies in that time frame either. That shouldn’t mean victims have to suffer these huge financial consequences. Thankfully, the courts agreed and State Farm was held accountable,” said Richards.