State Supreme Court Holds Appeals Court Misunderstood Proximate Cause in Michigan Personal Injury Case
The Michigan Supreme Court recently reversed a decision from the Michigan Court of Appeals, holding the appeals court misapplied proximate cause law in determining whether the defendant proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In the fall of 2011, the then-13-year-old plaintiff was a member of the Chelsea High School cross-country team. Shortly after the season began, the coach held an early morning practice; it was the plaintiff’s first morning practice as a member of the team. The practice began at 5:59 a.m., when it was still dark outside. At the beginning of practice, the coach took the team off school grounds to run. During the run, the team approached an intersection with a two-lane highway. The “Do Not Walk” symbol was illuminated because the traffic light was green for the highway traffic. The coach and the group of runners with him stopped at the intersection. He saw a vehicle in the distance, but he determined that it was far enough away to safely cross. He instructed the runners to cross the intersection by stating, “Let’s go.” It was unclear whether all of the team members heard the instruction. Although most of the team safely crossed the road, a few runners in the back of the group were still in or near the roadway when the vehicle entered the intersection. The vehicle hit the plaintiff and one of his teammates as they were crossing the road. The plaintiff was severely injured, and he has no memory of the accident.
The plaintiffs, the victim and his parents, sued the coach and the driver. The coach moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), asserting governmental immunity pursuant to the government tort liability act (GTLA). He also moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (10). The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, stating that whether the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent and whether his actions were the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries were questions of fact for the jury to decide.
The defendant appealed, and the court of appeals reversed. The panel concluded that any factual disputes were not material because reasonable minds could not conclude that the defendant was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The panel determined that the presence of the driver in the roadway and the plaintiff’s own actions were more immediate and direct causes of the plaintiff’s injuries and held that the most proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries was the fact that he was struck by a moving vehicle.