Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Mays v. Snyder
Water users and property owners in Flint, Michigan (plaintiffs) brought a class action at the Court of Claims against defendants Governor Rick Snyder, the state of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (the MDEQ), and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, the state defendants) and against defendants Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose (the city defendants). Plaintiffs alleged the Governor and these officials had knowledge of a 2011 study commissioned by Flint officials that cautioned against the use of Flint River water as a source of drinking water. In 2014, under the direction of Earley and the MDEQ, Flint switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) to the Flint River. Less than a month after the switch, state officials began to receive complaints from Flint water users about the quality of the water coming out of their taps. Plaintiffs alleged state officials failed to take any significant remedial measures to address the growing health threat and instead continued to downplay the health risk, advising Flint water users that it was safe to drink the tap water while simultaneously arranging for state employees in Flint to drink water from water coolers installed in state buildings. The state and city defendants separately moved for summary disposition on all four counts, arguing that plaintiffs had failed to satisfy the statutory notice requirements in MCL 600.6431 of the Court of Claims Act, failed to allege facts to establish a constitutional violation for which a judicially inferred damages remedy was appropriate, and failed to allege facts to establish the elements of any of their claims. The Court of Claims granted defendants’ motions for summary disposition on plaintiffs’ causes of action under the state-created-danger doctrine and the Fair and Just Treatment Clause of the 1963 Michigan Constitution, art 1, section 17, after concluding that neither cause of action was cognizable under Michigan law. However, the Court of Claims denied summary disposition on all of defendants’ remaining grounds, concluding that plaintiffs satisfied the statutory notice requirements and adequately pleaded claims of inverse condemnation and a violation of their right to bodily integrity. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Claims. After hearing oral argument on defendants’ applications, a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court expressly affirmed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion regarding plaintiffs’ inverse-condemnation claim. The Court of Appeals opinion was otherwise affirmed by equal division. View "Mays v. Snyder" on Justia Law
Wigfall v. City of Detroit
Dwayne Wigfall brought an action against the city of Detroit for injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident allegedly caused when he hit a pothole on a city street. On advice from the city’s Law Department, Wigfall sent a notice via certified mail addressed to the Law Department that included a description of the pothole, its location, and a description of plaintiff’s injuries. An adjuster from the Law Department acknowledged receipt of Wigfall’s claim. After Wigfall filed his complaint, the city moved for summary judgment, arguing that Wigfall’s claim was barred by governmental immunity because Wigfall failed to serve notice of his claim on the mayor, the city clerk, or the city attorney as required by MCL 691.1404(2) and MCR 2.105(G)(2). The court denied the city’s motion, and the city appealed. Faytreon West brought an action against the city of Detroit, for injuries she allegedly suffered when she tripped on a pothole and fell while walking on a city street. West’s counsel sent notice of the injury and highway defect to the city’s Law Department via certified mail, instructing the city to immediately contact West’s counsel if it believed that the notice did not comply with any applicable notice requirements. The Law Department received the letter, and an adjuster from the Law Department acknowledged receipt of West’s claim. After West filed her complaint, the city moved for summary judgment, also arguing West had failed to comply with the notice requirement in MCL 691.1404(2) because she had not served an individual who may lawfully be served with civil process. The trial court granted the motion in favor of the city and denied West’s motion for reconsideration. In both cases, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the city: Plaintiffs complied with the requirements of MCL 691.1404(2) by serving their notices on the city’s Law Department. The Supreme Court found the Law Department was an agent of defendant’s city attorney (also known as the Corporation Counsel) and was charged with receiving notice under the city’s charter and ordinances. View "Wigfall v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law
Dye v. Esurance Property & Casualty Ins. Co.
Matthew Dye brought an action against Esurance Property and Casualty Insurance Company and GEICO Indemnity Company, seeking personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., for injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle accident while driving a vehicle he had recently purchased. At plaintiff’s request, plaintiff’s father had registered the vehicle in plaintiff’s name and obtained a no-fault insurance policy from Esurance. The declarations page of the policy identified only plaintiff’s father as the named insured. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was living with his wife, who owned a vehicle that was insured by GEICO. After Esurance and GEICO refused to cover plaintiff’s claim, plaintiff filed a breach-of-contract claim against both insurers along with a declaratory action, alleging that either Esurance or GEICO was obligated to pay his no-fault PIP benefits and requesting that the trial court determine the parties’ respective rights and duties. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review centered on whether an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle involved in an accident was excluded from receiving statutory no-fault insurance benefits under the no-fault act when someone other than an owner or registrant purchased no-fault insurance for that vehicle. The Court of Appeals concluded that “[a]t least one owner or registrant must have the insurance required by MCL 500.3101(1), and ‘when none of the owners maintains the requisite coverage, no owner may recover [personal injury protection (PIP)] benefits.’ ” The Supreme Court concluded an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle was not required to personally purchase no-fault insurance for his or her vehicle in order to avoid the statutory bar to PIP benefits. Rather, MCL 500.3101(1) only requires that the owner or registrant “maintain” no-fault insurance. The Court reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Dye v. Esurance Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Stenzel v. Best Buy Company, Inc.
Plaintiff Paulette Stenzel was injured after her new refrigerator began to spray water out of its water dispenser onto her kitchen floor, causing her to slip and fall. She filed a timely complaint alleging negligence, breach of contract, and breach of warranty against defendant Best Buy Co., Inc., which had sold and installed the refrigerator. Best Buy filed a notice of nonparty fault, identifying defendant-appellant Samsung Electronics America, Inc., as the refrigerator’s manufacturer. Plaintiff added a claim against Samsung in an amended complaint, and Samsung moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff’s claim against it was untimely because plaintiff had not first moved to amend under MCL 600.2957(2) and therefore was not entitled to the relation-back privilege set forth in that statute. The trial court granted Samsung’s motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals: a party may amend a pleading upon receipt of notice of nonparty fault pursuant to MCR 2.112(K) without filing a motion for leave to amend, and the amended pleading relates back to the original action pursuant to MCL 600.2957(2). View "Stenzel v. Best Buy Company, Inc." on Justia Law
Trowell v. Providence Hospital & Medical Centers, Inc.
Audrey Trowell filed an action against Providence Hospital and Medical Centers, Inc., after she sustained injuries while she was hospitalized. At issue in this case was whether plaintiff’s claims sounded in medical malpractice or ordinary negligence. If her claims implicated medical malpractice, then they were barred by the two-year statute of limitations applicable to medical malpractice actions and defendant was entitled to summary judgment under MCR 2.116(C)(7). If her claims sounded in ordinary negligence, then they were timely. The Court of Appeals couldn't tell based solely on the basis of the allegations in the complaint, so it remanded for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether plaintiff’s claims were in medical malpractice, ordinary negligence, or both. The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed with this approach, holding that under the facts of this case, in which the only material submitted to the trial court was plaintiff’s complaint, the remand was improper and in determining the nature of plaintiff’s claims, the lower courts’ review was limited to the complaint alone. A proper review of the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint lead the Supreme Court to conclude that although the complaint included some claims of medical malpractice, it also contains one claim of ordinary negligence. The case was remanded to proceed on the ordinary negligence claims. View "Trowell v. Providence Hospital & Medical Centers, Inc." on Justia Law
Bertin v. Mann
Kenneth Bertin brought an action against Douglas Mann alleging that Mann was negligent in operating a golf cart when he hit Bertin with the cart while the parties were playing a round of golf. The parties offered differing accounts of how the accident occurred. Bertin alleged that he had parked the cart and begun walking to his ball when he was suddenly struck by the cart driven by Mann, at which point Bertin fell to the ground and was hit a second time with the cart. Mann alleged that when he began accelerating, Bertin stepped in front of the cart and was hit. At issue in this case was whether getting hit by a golf cart is an inherent risk of golfing. If so, then Mann owed a duty only to refrain from reckless misconduct, but could not be held liable for negligent conduct. If not, then Mann would be held to the negligence standard of conduct. "The question boils down to how we determine which risks in a recreational activity are inherent, such that the reckless standard of conduct applies." The Court of Appeals answered this question by meditating upon golf’s essence and discerning that golf carts are not within the essence of the sport. The Michigan Supreme Court declined to endorse this philosophical mode of analysis. Instead, the Court held when determining whether a risk is inherent in a recreational activity for purposes of establishing the relevant standard of conduct, the fact-finder should ask whether the risk was reasonably foreseeable. Because the courts below did not apply this test, the Court reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for consideration of this issue. View "Bertin v. Mann" on Justia Law
Bazzi v. Sentinel Ins. Co.
Plaintiff Ali Bazzi, was injured while driving a vehicle owned by his mother, third-party defendant Hala Baydoun Bazzi, and insured by defendant Sentinel Insurance Company (Sentinel). Plaintiff sued Sentinel for mandatory personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under Michigan’s no-fault act, and Sentinel sought and obtained a default judgment rescinding the insurance policy on the basis of fraud. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court was whether the judicially created innocent-third-party rule, which precludes an insurer from rescinding an insurance policy procured through fraud when there is a claim involving an innocent third party, survived its decision in Titan Ins Co v. Hyten, 817 NW2d 562 (2012), which abrogated the judicially created easily-ascertainable-fraud rule. The Supreme Court held "Titan" abrogated the innocent-third-party rule but that the Court of Appeals erred when it concluded that Sentinel was automatically entitled to rescission in this instance. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the trial court to consider whether, in its discretion, rescission was an available remedy. View "Bazzi v. Sentinel Ins. Co." on Justia Law
McQueer v. Perfect Fence Company
Plaintiff David McQueer brought a negligence action against his employer, Perfect Fence Company, to recover damages after he was injured on the job. Perfect Fence moved for summary judgment on the ground that the exclusive-remedy provision of the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq., barred plaintiff’s action. Plaintiff responded that his action was not barred because defendant had violated MCL 418.611 by failing to procure workers’ compensation coverage for him and had violated MCL 418.171 by encouraging him to pose as a nonemployee. Plaintiff additionally moved to amend his complaint to add claims of intentional tort and breach of an employment contract. Plaintiff argued that the evidence raised a question of fact about whether defendant intended to injure him in a way that brought plaintiff’s claim within the scope of the intentional tort exception to the exclusive-remedy provision of the WDCA. The trial court granted Perfect Fence’s motion, concluding that the company had not violated MCL 418.611 because defendant had provided workers’ compensation coverage. The court also ruled that MCL 418.171 was not applicable to plaintiff’s claims. The court denied plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint, concluding that amendment would be futile because the undisputed facts did not demonstrate that defendant intended to injure plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and denial of plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The panel agreed with the trial court that defendant had not violated MCL 418.611, but concluded that plaintiff had established a question of fact regarding whether defendant had improperly encouraged him to pose as a contractor for the purpose of evading liability under WDCA in violation of MCL 418.171(4). The panel also concluded that because plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to create a question of fact regarding whether an intentional tort had occurred, the trial court abused its discretion by not allowing plaintiff to amend his complaint. The Michigan Supreme Court held MCL 418.171 did not apply in this case: because plaintiff was not the employee of a contractor engaged by defendant, he had no cause of action under MCL 418.171. For this reason, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals judgment only as to whether MCL 418.171 applied. View "McQueer v. Perfect Fence Company" on Justia Law
Iliades v. Dieffenbacher North America, Inc.
Plaintiffs Steven and Jane Iliades brought a products-liability action against Dieffenbacher North America Inc., alleging negligence, gross negligence, and breach of warranty after plaintiff was injured by a rubber molding press defendant manufactured. Plaintiff was injured when he attempted to retrieve parts that had fallen to the floor inside the press by reaching behind the light curtain without first placing the press into manual mode. Because of plaintiff’s position behind the light curtain, the light curtain was not interrupted, the press resumed its automatic operation, and plaintiff was trapped between the two plates of the press. The trial court granted summary disposition to defendant, ruling that plaintiff had misused the press given the evidence that he had been trained not to reach into the press while it was in automatic mode, knew how to place the press into manual mode, knew that the light curtain was not meant to be used as an emergency stop switch, and knew that the press would automatically begin its cycle if the light curtain was no longer interrupted. The court further ruled that plaintiff’s misuse was not reasonably foreseeable because plaintiff had not presented any evidence that defendant could have foreseen that a trained press operator would crawl beyond a light curtain and partially inside a press to retrieve a part without first disengaging the press. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in an unpublished per curiam opinion, holding that, regardless of whether plaintiff had misused the press, defendant could be held liable because plaintiff’s conduct was reasonably foreseeable. The Michigan Supreme Court determined that whether the misuse was reasonably foreseeable depended on whether defendant knew or should have known of the misuse, not on whether plaintiff was grossly negligent in operating the press. Because the majority of the Court of Appeals did not decide whether and how plaintiff misused the press, and because it did not apply the common-law meaning of reasonable foreseeability, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for reconsideration of summary judgment entered in defendant’s favor. View "Iliades v. Dieffenbacher North America, Inc." on Justia Law
Estate of James Armour II v. Hall
At issue before the Michigan Supreme Court in this case is whether plaintiff, arguing that venue was improper, could avail herself of MCR 2.223(A), which permitted a court to order a venue change “on timely motion of a defendant,” MCR 2.223(A)(1), or on the court’s “own initiative,” MCR 2.223(A)(2). This case arose out of a fatal automobile accident in Lake County between defendant Rodney Hall and decedent James Armour II. Plaintiff Joanne Dawley, Armour’s spouse, sued Hall in Wayne County in August 2014. Defendant moved to transfer venue to Mason County or Lake County, alleging among other things that he conducted business in Mason County by owning and operating Barothy Lodge. The Wayne Circuit Court granted the motion and transferred venue to Mason County in March 2015. Ten months later, plaintiff moved under MCR 2.223 to change venue back to Wayne County, alleging that discovery had revealed that defendant did not, in fact, own the resort in his name; he was merely a member of Hall Investments, LLC, which owned the resort. Therefore, according to plaintiff, venue in Mason County was improper because defendant did not conduct business there. The trial court disagreed, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for transfer of venue to Wayne County. Defendant appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing among other things that MCR 2.223 did not permit a plaintiff to move for transfer of venue. The Supreme Court found that because plaintiff’s motion was neither a motion by defendant nor an action on the court’s “own initiative,” it held plaintiff could not file a motion for a change of venue under MCR 2.223(A). Accordingly, the Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision ordering transfer of venue. View "Estate of James Armour II v. Hall" on Justia Law