Dean v. Chrysler Corp.

Decision Date03 July 1990
Docket NumberDocket No. 84065
Citation434 Mich. 655,455 N.W.2d 699
PartiesCorrine DEAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHRYSLER CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee. 434 Mich. 655, 455 N.W.2d 699
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Mancini, Schreuder, Kline & Conrad, P.C. by Roger R. Kline, Warren, for plaintiff-appellant.

Lacey & Jones by Stephen Jay Schwartz, Birmingham, for defendant-appellee.

GRIFFIN, Justice.

Plaintiff seeks workers' compensation 1 benefits for injuries incurred in an automobile accident while traveling from home to her doctor's office where she was to receive treatment for a prior work-related compensable injury. Nearly half a century ago, in Rucker v. Michigan Smelting & Refining Co., 300 Mich. 668, 2 N.W.2d 808 (1942), this Court held that a subsequent injury sustained under similar circumstances was not compensable because it did not arise "out of and in the course of employment" within the meaning of the act. 2 In this appeal we are asked to extend workers' compensation coverage to include plaintiff's auto accident injuries. Taking into account that Rucker was the law in 1972 when the Legislature passed the no-fault act, 3 which allocated costs as between the no-fault and workers' compensation system, and noting that the Legislature, despite numerous opportunities to do so, has left undisturbed our holding in Rucker, we decline to overrule it. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.


While engaged in defendant Chrysler's employ on April 1, 1978, plaintiff Corrine Dean suffered a work-related injury when an explosion hurled a piece of metal against her leg. Defendant does not dispute that this injury is compensable under the Worker's Disability Compensation Act. Plaintiff returned to work around May 19, 1978, and was placed on restricted or favored-work status. Plaintiff did not report to work on June 28, 1978, in order to attend an appointment with her personal physician to review the results of lab tests and receive further treatment in connection with the prior work-related leg injury. While en route from home to her physician's office plaintiff sustained multiple injuries in a one-car motor vehicle accident in which her car apparently flipped over a concrete barrier.

In addition to workers' disability compensation for the workplace leg injury, which is not contested, plaintiff seeks coverage under the act for the injuries sustained in the June 28, 1978, motor vehicle accident. 4 A hearing referee found that although "plaintiff's injury while travelling to the doctor's office [did] not constitute a new compensable injury ... it [was] a consequence of the original injury and the disability ... therefore, [was] compensable as resultant therefrom." The WCAB affirmed with modifications not relevant to this appeal.

Subsequently, a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished per curiam opinion. 5 Finding that Rucker controlled, the Court concluded that the injuries sustained in the automobile accident did not arise out of and in the course of plaintiff's employment because they were not the direct and natural result of the compensable primary injury.

Plaintiff's initial application to this Court for leave to appeal was denied. 431 Mich. 913 (1988). However, plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, and we then granted leave to appeal. 432 Mich. 921, 442 N.W.2d 138 (1989).


In Rucker, supra, the plaintiff suffered a work-connected injury while in the defendant's employ and was sent to a doctor who treated the injury. Afterwards, the doctor sent the plaintiff home in a taxicab at the expense of the defendant's insurer. While en route, the cab was involved in a collision, resulting in an injury to the plaintiff's eye. In determining whether the accident which occasioned the plaintiff's eye injury "arose out of and in the course of his employment," the Rucker Court stated the general rule that injuries arise out of the employment

" '[w]hen there is apparent to the rational mind, upon consideration of all the circumstances, a causal connection between the conditions under which the work is required to be performed, and the resulting injury. Under this test, if the injury can be seen to have followed as a natural incident of the work and to have been contemplated by a reasonable person familiar with the whole situation as a result of the exposure occasioned by the nature of the employment, then it arises "out of" the employment. But it excludes an injury which cannot be fairly traced to the employment as a contributing proximate cause and which comes from a hazard to which the workman would have been equally exposed apart from the employment.' " 300 Mich. at 671, 2 N.W.2d 808 quoting Appleford v. Kimmel, 297 Mich. 8, 12, 296 N.W. 861 (1941).

The Rucker Court unanimously held that there was "no causal connection" between the prior work-related injury and the injury suffered in the taxicab collision. 300 Mich. at 672, 2 N.W.2d 808 (emphasis added). Although Rucker is virtually indistinguishable, plaintiff in this case urges that Rucker no longer controls. It is claimed that Rucker was overruled by the plurality decision in Whetro v. Awkerman, 383 Mich. 235, 174 N.W.2d 783 (1970), to the extent that Rucker required a proximate cause between the injury and employment. In Whetro, three members of this Court stated "that the law in Michigan today no longer requires the establishment of a proximately causal connection between the employment and the injury to entitle a claimant to compensation." Id. at 242, 174 N.W.2d 783. 6

We reject the argument that Whetro had such an effect with respect to a subsequent injury that occurs away from the workplace. Aside from the fact that the Whetro plurality opinion is not precedent,S 7 it simply does not address the question of compensability of such a second or subsequent injury.

Whetro is distinguishable from Rucker on two grounds. First, the Whetro claimant was injured when a tornado destroyed the building "wherein he was working for his employer...." Id. at 239, 174 N.W.2d 783. (Emphasis added). 8 Thus, unlike the employee in Rucker and in this case, the claimant in Whetro was actually engaged in his employer's business when he was injured. 9

Secondly, Whetro's focus was not on a second or subsequent injury; rather, the question there was whether the first, and only, injury was compensable. By contrast, the issue in this case, as in Rucker, is whether a second or subsequent injury is compensable. Accordingly, Whetro did not overrule Rucker, expressly or by implication.

In his treatise on workmen's compensation, Professor Larson recognizes that the causation rules applicable to a workplace primary injury are not the same as the causation principles which should apply to a second or subsequent injury that occurs away from the workplace. As Larson explains:

"A distinction must be observed between causation rules affecting the primary injury ... and causation rules that determine how far the range of compensable consequences is carried, once the primary injury is causally connected with the employment. As to the primary injury, it has been shown that the 'arising' test is a unique one quite unrelated to common-law concepts of legal cause, and it will be shown later that the employee's own contributory negligence is ordinarily not an intervening cause preventing initial compensability. But when the question is whether compensability should be extended to a subsequent injury or aggravation related in some way to the primary injury, the rules that come into play are essentially based upon the concepts of 'direct and natural results,' and of claimant's own conduct as an independent intervening cause." 1 Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law, Sec. 13.11, p. 3-502. (Emphasis added.)

"The basic rule" to be applied to second injury cases according to Professor Larson

"is that a subsequent injury, whether an aggravation of the original injury or a new and distinct injury, is compensable if it is the direct and natural result of a compensable primary injury." 1 Larson, Workmen's Compensation, Sec. 13.11, p. 3-503. (Emphasis added.)

However, Larson is required to concede that the "basic rule" is inadequate to justify compensation for most second injuries because, "in the strict sense, none of the consequential injuries we are concerned with are in the course of employment...." 1 Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law, Sec. 13.11(d), p. 3-542. Thus, Larson finds it "necessary to contrive" a new "quasi-course of employment" concept for analyzing the more difficult cases:

"By this expression [quasi-course of employemnt] is meant activities undertaken by the employee following upon his injury which, although they take place outside the time and space limits of the employment, and would not be considered employment activities for usual purposes, are nevertheless related to the employment in the sense that they are necessary or reasonable activities that would not have been undertaken but for the compensable injury." Id.

In further explanation of his "quasi-course of employment" approach, Larson states:

"There is no intention at this point to suggest that the formulation here worked out is drawn from the pronouncements of actual cases. On the contrary, the reported opinions have developed no satisfactory overall analysis of the problem. However, if one looks at the actual holdings, one can find considerable support for the proposition that the pattern of principle here developed is not out of line with the main body of case law on the subject." 1 Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law, Sec. 13.11(d), p. 3-546.

While it may be true, as the dissent contends, that a tally of the decisions by courts in other jurisdictions would show that a slight majority line up with the approach taken by Professor Larson, that alone could hardly serve as a principled basis for reversal of the rule in...

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