7-23-12; No Causation? No Case! The Michigan Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of Two Workers’ Compensation Claims Based on Lack of Proof of Causation. Ellen Keefe-Garner is one of our two licensed...

Even young children know that there can be consequences that can arise from an action or a failure to act. In other words, even very young children understand an action can cause a certain outcome. In many kinds of legal cases, a causal connection or causation must be shown if Plaintiff wants his or her case to survive and avoid dismissal. However, if causation is missing from a case, the trial court has no option but to dismiss the case.

In some cases, the issue of causation is patent and obvious. For instance, if a doctor removes the wrong leg of his or her patient, a causal connection between the loss of a healthy leg and the negligence in performing an amputation surgery in an incorrect location is obvious. However, in other cases, the issue of causation is not so obvious, and it must be more carefully analyzed before a lawsuit is filed. Before filing a less obvious causation case, a plaintiff should look closely at his or her evidence to make sure he or she has the proof necessary to support the issue of causation so the case will not get dismissed.

In the case of King v City of Ann Arbor, Plaintiff, a police officer, lacked the necessary evidence to establish causation when she filed her lawsuit against the City. Plaintiff had apparently suffered two injuries in March of 2009 while working as a police officer in Ann Arbor, Michigan ("City"). The City accepted both cases as meritorious claims causing the City to pay workers’ compensation benefits to the police officer from March until September of 2009.

In September 2009, the police officer was released to full duty and workers’ compensation benefits were terminated. However, after she was released to full duty work, she wanted to receive additional compensation benefits and she requested her cases be re-opened. In February of 2010, the City sent the police officer to undergo an Independent Medical Examination to determine if the police officer had some ongoing work-related problems. After doing a physical examination, the IME physician determined the police officer’s ongoing physical problems were not work-related. Based on the IME report, the City refused to re-open the police officer’s workers’ compensation cases.

In 2010, in an unrelated case, the police officer filed a report with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) regarding a carbon monoxide alarm which had sounded in City Hall twice in April of 2010. She later suspected the City had refused to re-open her workers’ compensation cases because of her filing of this MIOSHA report.

Based on her assuming the MIOSHA report had CAUSED the city to refuse the reopening of her workers’ compensation claims, she filed a lawsuit against the City under the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. In her Whistleblowers’ Complaint, she alleged her MIOSHA reporting had motivated the city to deny the reopening of her workers’ compensation cases.

During discovery in the police officer’s Whistleblowers’ case, it became clear the police officer had never fully analyzed the evidence she would need to establish causation before filing her case. Her lack of evidence on causation became apparent when it was revealed during the pendency of her case the police officer had NEVER reported or revealed her filing of the MIOSHA report to the city’s benefit manager, the city’s third party administrator for workers’ compensation cases or the city’s workers’ compensation insurer. In other words, the police officer had no evidence to prove anyone involved in refusing to reopen her workers’ compensation claims had any knowledge of her MIOSHA report. Without such evidence, she had no way to prove her filing of the MIOSHA report was causally connected to the City’s refusal to reopen her workers’ compensation cases. Since she lacked such evidence of causation, the court had no option except to grant summary disposition and dismiss her whistleblowers’ case.

This article was researched and written by Ellen Keefe-Garner, JD, RN, BSN. Feel free to contact Ellen at EMKeefe@keefe-law.com with any related questions or comments.