Articles Posted in Gross Negligence

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Michigan sports accident case involving a golf cart injury from May 2013. The plaintiff and the defendant were playing the 17th hole at Farmington Hills Golf Club when the defendant struck the plaintiff with his cart. The plaintiff was hit in his rear end and knocked onto the ground. He was then struck a second time when the golf cart rolled over him. The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence in 2014.

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Prior to trial, the plaintiff moved for the trial court to hold that the defendant was negligent as a matter of law and that the case should proceed to trial on the issue of damages. The defendant argued the motion was improper because it cited an incorrect standard of review. The defendant further argued that reckless misconduct was the applicable standard of care because the parties were participating in a recreational activity when the injury occurred.  The trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion, finding that the motion in limine contained factual issues the jury should decide.

At trial, both parties offered testimony regarding the defendant’s conduct on the golf course. The plaintiff agreed that the defendant was being careless–rather than reckless–when the collision occurred. Ultimately, the Oakland County jury concluded that the defendant was not reckless, and the court entered a judgment of no cause of action against the plaintiff.

In a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 excessive force case, a plaintiff alleged two defendant Michigan state troopers struck him with their police cruiser, tased him, and forced him to stand and walk on his injured left leg after he dislocated his hip. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity based on their police cruiser’s dash-cam video of the pursuit and incident. The defendants further argued that the plaintiff ran into their parked vehicle and was therefore responsible for his own injuries.

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In addition to his excessive force claim, the plaintiff alleged a state law claim of gross negligence against the officers. They argued that his gross negligence claim should be dismissed because the factual allegations pled supported an intentional tort claim only. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan denied their motion for summary judgment as to the § 1983 claim for excessive force but granted the summary judgment motion as to the gross negligence claim.

The court first analyzed whether the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the excessive force claim brought under § 1983. The defendants argued qualified immunity shielded them from liability. Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. The court employs a two-step inquiry in deciding qualified immunity questions. First, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, has the plaintiff shown that a constitutional violation has occurred? Second, was the right clearly established at the time of the violation?

A plaintiff filed a Michigan sports accident case following injuries he sustained while playing softball at a sports complex operated by defendant Canton Township. Another defendant is an employee of Canton Township in its Parks Department who oversees maintenance at the softball fields. A third defendant is also employed by Canton Township as a laborer in the Parks Department, and his duties include daily maintenance of the softball fields. The plaintiff’s injury occurred as he attempted to slide into second base. He alleged that the cause of his injury was the failure of the base to disengage from the mound as designed when he slid into it, which he attributed to the gross negligence of the defendants. The defendants claimed that the injury was a result of his improper slide. The trial court concluded that a genuine issue of material fact existed with regard to whether the defendants engaged in gross negligence that was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Additionally, the trial court concluded that defendant Canton Township could be held vicariously liable for any gross negligence of its employees. The defendants appealed from the order of the trial court denying their joint motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) (governmental immunity), (C)(8) (failure to state a claim), & (C)(10) (no genuine issue of material fact). The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed.

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The appeals court first explained that the trial court’s conclusion that Canton Township could be vicariously liable was clearly erroneous. The Government Tort Liability Act (GTLA) states that “except as otherwise provided in this act, a governmental agency is immune from tort liability if the governmental agency is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function.” The Michigan Supreme Court has defined the phrase “tort liability” in the GTLA to mean “all legal responsibility arising from a noncontractual civil wrong for which a remedy may be obtained in the form of compensatory damages.” Therefore, the broad grant of immunity provided in the GTLA to governmental agencies includes cases in which a plaintiff seeks to impose tort liability vicariously. The language of the gross negligence exception in the GTLA states that it only applies to officers, employees, volunteers, and members of a board, council, commission, or statutorily created task force. Therefore, unless there is a specifically enumerated exception allowing a lawsuit against the governmental agency, rather than merely its officers or employees, the governmental agency cannot be held vicariously liable for the acts of its employees.

The issue concerning the claim against the employees, the appeals court explained, was whether the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact that they engaged in gross negligence that was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the reason the base did not disengage from the mount as designed when he slid into it was because the defendants failed to properly clean the underside of the base and failed to adequately maintain the ground around the base, such that excess dirt and debris built up on the underside of the base and along its outside edges. In support of his position, the plaintiff relied on the deposition testimony of his manager, who testified that, after the plaintiff’s injury, he struck the base with a bat several times, and it did not disengage. The plaintiff also relied on the affidavit of an expert, who averred that a buildup of dirt and residue on the back and lateral sides of the base can cause the base to fail to disengage. The expert concluded that since the base did not disengage when the manager hit it with a bat, there must have been a significant buildup of dirt and debris, which could only have been caused by a failure to properly maintain the base.

A public park patron filed suit after being struck by a rock thrown from a passing lawnmower. The Michigan appeals court reversed the circuit court’s denial of the defendants’ motion for summary disposition, concluding the patron made no allegation rising to the level necessary to prevent the defendants’ use of governmental immunity.

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On May 20, 2013, the plaintiff visited Williams Island beach with her family. They sat at a picnic table. Approximately 30 minutes later, a Yates Township maintenance crew arrived. A Yates Township employee was tasked with cutting the grass using a riding lawnmower. The plaintiff asserted that on his first pass, the employee drove the power mower within 10 feet of the picnic table, causing dust and debris to be thrown into the air. As a result, the plaintiff and her family decided to leave. The plaintiff alleged that before they could retreat, the employee drove by again within a few yards. A rock shot out from the mower and struck the plaintiff between the eyes on the forehead. She suffered a fracture to the left nasal bone as well as swelling and bruising around her eyes and nose.

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Kristy Bastine, a Westland police officer, sued the city of Dearborn Heights, the city of Southfield, and Dearborn Heights Police Officer Tim Ciochon after being injured while participating in SWAT training in 2012. In a recent decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s grant of summary disposition to the defendants, reasoning that the statutory firefighter rule barred the plaintiffs’ claims.

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In 2012, Kristy became a member of Westland’s SWAT team. During the subsequent SWAT training, the trainees were told to quickly get into a general purpose vehicle (GPV), a heavy-duty assault vehicle driven by Ciochon. Kristy testified that when she entered the vehicle, she looked for a seat belt but could not find one. Although the testimony of the witnesses varied, the evidence indicated that shortly before returning to the starting point, the GPV hit an object, probably a tree stump. The impact caused Kristy to fly off her seat, hit the roof with the back of her helmet, fall forward, and hit her chin and teeth on something inside the GPV. She was later diagnosed with a spinal fracture and traumatic brain injury.

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In April 2014, plaintiff David Alvarez plummeted from a rock climbing wall at LifeTime Fitness Center in Novi, Michigan. Alvarez had taken his family to the center. Neither his wife nor daughter had climbed before, and everyone signed a waiver releasing Lifetime from liability for negligence. Alvarez fell from the climbing wall because his harness was on backwards and was hooked incorrectly to the belay system. Shortly thereafter, he filed suit in Oakland County Circuit Court.

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Alvarez suffered numerous injuries to his legs and back during the fall. In the lawsuit, he argued that the LifeTime employee was “grossly negligent” in failing to determine whether Alvarez had correctly fastened his harness and belay system before instructing Alvarez to climb. Once he had reached the top of the wall, Alvarez asked the employee how to get down and was told: “just let go.” After letting go, the harness failed and Alvarez fell to the ground, seriously injuring himself.

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A Michigan appellate court recently upheld a trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants in a high school sports injury case, reasoning the plaintiff did not provide sufficient evidence of gross negligence and proximate cause. baseball

The injury occurred at Avondale High School in February 2011. Plaintiff Ian Raber and a fellow high school student were playing catch with a baseball during gym, when a baseball nicked the edge of Raber’s glove and collided with his unprotected chest. Raber began to make convulsive, jerking motions before collapsing on the floor. Some of the other students ran from the gym to locate defendant Kourtney Thompson, a baseball coach and social studies teacher who was tasked with overseeing the gym. Kourtney had left the students unsupervised to use the restroom and visit his classroom. Thompson ran back to the gym, determined that the plaintiff was still breathing, and called 911. Observing some jerking motions, Thompson concluded that the plaintiff might have been suffering from a seizure. He cleared the area around the plaintiff to wait for paramedics to arrive. He did not check the plaintiff’s breathing or pulse again, although the plaintiff’s face and lips were turning gray or blue. He did not perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or attempt to employ an automatic external defibrillator (AED).

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