A recent opinion by the Michigan Court of Appeals explained how the law on governmental immunity could affect cases brought against government entities.
In Estate of Thomas Truett v. Wayne Cnty. Dep’t of Pub. Servs., the Court considered whether a plaintiff could recover against a governmental entity for wrongful death when the Complaint did not allege facts that established an exception to the Government Tort Liability Act’s grant of governmental immunity. They concluded that she could not.
The plaintiff in this case was the personal representative for a man who was killed when his motorcycle collided with a tree lying along the road. The plaintiff sued the county for failing to properly maintain the road and causing the decedent’s death. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary disposition, finding that the county had immunity from suit. Although the GTLA provided an exception for defective highways, the GTLA specifically excludes trees from the definition of a highway. The exception didn’t apply.
The Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in finding that the highway exception to the GTLA did not apply. The negligence was not related to the maintenance of the tree, but of the road beneath the tree. Essentially, the claim was that, had the county removed the obstruction in the road, the accident would not have occurred. The nature of the obstruction was irrelevant. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals upheld the summary disposition, because the statute required that the plaintiff allege a “defect in the physical structure of the roadbed.” Because the pleading was legally insufficient, the summary disposition was affirmed, and the plaintiff walked away with nothing.
What this means for your case: This case emphatically shows that the way a case is presented to the trial court can have a devastating impact in the appeals court. If this attorney had stated that the injury was due to a defect in the roadbed, they may have been able to avoid being dismissed. This is a death case that left a family with more questions than answers. Experienced counsel can help you avoid that outcome.