Supreme Court to Consider Meaning of “Bodily Injury” Under Motor Vehicle Exception

I am writing an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on behalf of Wayne County and Michigan Townships Association, among others, in this public liability case in which the Supreme Court has granted the State of Michigan’s application for leave to appeal to address whether “bodily injury” liability available against the government under the “motor vehicle” exception to governmental immunity encompasses damages other than those directly related to those associated with corporeal physical injury to the plaintiff. The case will have a significant impact on the day-to-day operations of the government and the decision will have consequences upon the ability of governmental entities to fund public services.

See my previous post about this case here:

Supreme Court to Consider Scope of “Bodily Injury” Under Motor Vehicle Exception

Bus Passenger’s Cause of Action Dismissed Against Transportation Commission – Court of Appeals Affirms Trial Court’s Judgment for Transportation Commission

In Palmer v. Blue Water Area Transportation Commission, the Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s judgment of no cause of action against a governmental entity (here a transportation commission) in a suit by a bus passenger alleging negligence and gross negligence against the governmental entity and its employee, respectively.

Plaintiff fell while boarding the bus.  She attributed the fall to the driver’s actions, claiming the driver allowed the bus to lurch or move forward as she was boarding.  Plaintiff’s story was inconsistent.  In various contexts, she gave varying versions of what happened prior to her fall.  The bus driver testified the bus was in park and she had her foot on the brake while plaintiff boarded the bus and did not move the bus prior to plaintiff’s fall.

Since defendant was a governmental entity, the plaintiff claimed negligent operation of a motor vehicle, under the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity (MCL 691.1405); gross negligence against the driver, claiming that such negligence was the proximate cause of her injuries (MCL 691.1407); and that she suffered a “threshold injury” (serious impairment of a bodily function) under MCL 500.3135 of the No-Fault Act.

Primarily finding plaintiff’s testimony to be inconsistent and therefore not credible, the trial court judge granted the governmental entity’s motion for judgment finding no cause of action existed.

The Court of Appeals affirms in this opinion.  The opinion is rather unremarkable as a whole, but it does contain a convenient synopsis of the standards applicable to bring a cause of action under the motor vehicle exception and the gross negligence exception to governmental immunity.  It also points out that to prove a threshold injury for (economic or non-economic) damages under the No-Fault Act, the plaintiff must first establish the proper standards of care and that such standards were breached by the governmental entity.

This is significant, because it establishes the fundamental principle that before a plaintiff can seek any ordinary tort damages arising out of the alleged operation of a motor vehicle under the No-Fault Act in an action against a governmental entity, he or she must first establish the existence of a valid statutory exception to immunity.

The correlation between the Governmental Tort Liability Act (the GTLA), and, specifically, the “motor vehicle” exception under MCL 691.1405, and the No-Fault Act, MCL 500.3100 et seq. provides some interesting issues, many of which are either making their way up through the appellate courts, or residing on applications or grants thereof in the Supreme Court of Michigan.

For example, the Supreme Court has granted to consider the extent of “economic damages” available to a plaintiff injured in an automobile accident with a government vehicle in the case of Hannay v. MDOT, Supreme Court Case No. 146763 (see the Court’s grant order here: hannay-v-mdot).  This is a significant case as the Court is set to consider the extent and scope of damages available in actions against the government within the meaning of MCL 691.1405, which allows only for “bodily injury and property damage” in actions for negligent operation of a motor vehicle.  I previously wrote a blog explaining the details of this case, which you can read here:  Supreme Court to Consider Scope of Damages Available for “Bodily Injury” Under the Motor Vehicle Exception to Governmental Immunity.  I am also writing an amicus curiae brief on behalf of several entities in this case.

In Hunter v. Sisco, ___ Mich. App. ___ (2013), which was cited by the Court of Appeals panel in this case, cross applications have been filed.  Underlying issues in that case include the extent of “noneconomic” damages available to plaintiffs claiming negligent operation of a motor vehicle under MCL 691.1405.  I wrote about that case in an earlier blog which you can read here:  Supreme Court Asked to Consider Whether “Non-Economic Damages” Are Available to Plaintiffs in Actions Against the Government Under the Motor Vehicle Exception to Governmental Immunity.  The disposition of Hannay could very well impact the outcome of this case.

It appears the answer to the latter question, to wit, whether non-economic damages are available under the motor vehicle exception, is considered by the Court of Appeals to be “No”.  Just yesterday, I wrote about a case in which the Court of Appeals, again citing Hunter, held non-economic, pain and suffering damages were not available to a plaintiff in a wrongful death action against the government filed, in part, under the motor vehicle exception.  The Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s application for leave to appeal in that case.  See my post here:  Supreme Court Denies Application to Reconsider Court of Appeals Decision Affirming Non-Economic Damages Are Not Available Against the Government Under the Motor Vehicle Exception.

The issue remains extant because the Supreme Court has not directly addressed the “scope and extent” of the damages that are available to an individual plaintiff in actions against the government under the motor vehicle exception.  The closest case, which is cited in the Supreme Court’s grant order in the Hannay case, is Weschler v. Mecosta County Rd. Comm’n, 480 Mich. 75 (2008), which defined the term “bodily injury” under the GTLA’s motor vehicle exception as “physical or corporeal injury to the body”. Weschler however addressed “loss of consortium” damages claimed by the plaintiff’s spouse and held that such claims were not recoverable under the “motor vehicle exception”.  Id.  This did not answer the question of the extent and scope of damages available directly to the plaintiff claiming injury to his or her own person under the exception.

Feel free to call Carson J. Tucker, Chair of the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones, LLP at (248) 283-0763 if you have any questions about any of these cases.

Throughout its storied history, Lacey & Jones has distinguished itself from other law firms by maintaining a robust Appeals and Legal Research Group.  Effective appellate representation demands different skills than those required by litigation attorneys.  Our appellate attorneys are adept at analyzing the intricacies of each case from an objective and critical perspective.  From reviewing and preparing the lower court record, identifying appealable errors, and developing a strategy to raise issues that will be addressed by appellate courts, our seasoned appellate team is capable of handling the most complex appeals from the application stage to oral advocacy before the highest courts.  Our research abilities and knowledge of current issues in nearly all major subject-matter areas of the law provide our clients with efficient and immediate assistance with complex and high-exposure cases.   We are experienced at navigating through the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court to shepherd the appeal in the most expeditious fashion possible so that it can be reviewed and quickly ruled upon.  During the last three decades alone, the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones has been responsible for over 150 published decisions in the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, including seminal decisions in workers’ compensation, governmental immunity, employment and labor law, civil rights law and insurance coverage.  Because of its specialized knowledge and focus on appellate law and its recognized expertise, the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones has been asked to participate as amicus curiae writing briefs for the Supreme Court or as special counsel to the Michigan Attorney General and other governmental entities in some of the most significant cases in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.   Below are some of the recent significant cases in which Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Appeals and Legal Research Group has participated.

  • State Farm v. MMRMA, ___ Mich App ___ (2013), amicus curiae for Oakland County in support of MMRMA application, by Carson J. Tucker
  • Hannay v MDOT, ___ Mich ___ 201_), application granted, amicus curiae to be filed for MTA, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • Yono v. MDOT, ___ Mich ___ (201_), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County filed by Carson J. Tucker in support of the state’s application
  • Huddleston v. Trinity Health, et al., ___ Mich ___ (201_), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae with Lawrence Garcia, Esq., for MDTC
  • Ashley, LLC v Pittsfield Twp., 494 Mich 875 (2013), application granted, for Pittsfield Township by Carson J. Tucker (resolved by settlement)
  • Bailey v. Schaaf, ___ Mich ___ (2013), amicus curiae for MDTC by Carson J. Tucker
  • Atkins v. SMART, 492 Mich 707 (2012), oral argument on application, Court of Appeals case reversed by opinion, Carson J. Tucker
  • Hagerty v Manistee, 493 Mich 933 (2013), amicus curiae for Michigan Municipal League, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • McMurtrie v Eaton Corp, 490 Mich 976 (2011)
  • Findley v DaimlerChrysler Corp., 490 Mich 928 (2011)
  • Brewer v. AD.Transport Express, Inc, 486 Mich 50 (2010)
  • Stokes v Chrysler, 481 Mich 266 (2008)
  • Brackett v Focus Hope, Inc, 482 Mich 269 (2008)
  • Rakestraw v Gen Dynamics, 469 Mich 220 (2003)
  • Sington v Chrysler Corp., (2002)

Other appeal cases Carson Tucker has handled include

  • Hamed v. Wayne County, et al., 490 Mich. 1 (2011), reversing Court of Appeals published opinion after being briefed and argued by Carson J. Tucker on behalf of Wayne County
  • Odom v. Wayne County, et al., 482 Mich. 459 (2008), reversing Court of Appeals after being briefed and argued by Carson J. Tucker on behalf of Wayne County and Wayne County Sheriff and Deputies
  • Michigan Department of Transportation v Employers Mutual Casualty Co, et al., 481

    Mich. 862 (2008), reversing Court of Appeals after being briefed and argued on application by Carson J. Tucker for Trucking Company and Insurer

  • Nuculovic v. Hill and SMART, 287 Mich. App. 58 (2010), briefed by Carson J. Tucker for SMART
  • Molnar v. Amy Allen, Oakland County Care House, et al, 359 Fed. Appx. 623 (6th Cir. 2009), affirming district court’s judgment in favor of client represented by Carson J. Tucker
  • Molnar v. Amy Allen, Oakland County Care House, et al., Case No. 09-1536 (2009), successful defense of application to United States Supreme Court by Carson J. Tucker
  • Wetherill v. McHugh, et al., Case No. 10-638 (2011), co-draft response on behalf of South Dakota National Guard to petition for appeal to United States Supreme Court, cert denied by Supreme Court.

Wage Loss Must Be Attributable to Work Injury for Award of Workers’ Compensation Benefits – Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission Reiterates Fundamental Precept to Receipt of Workers’ Compensation Benefits

In Scott v. Chrysler.2013 ACO 71, the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission provides a current and relevant analysis of the meaning and import of the principle in workers’ compensation law that a claimant must prove his or her work-related injury, however valid, is the true cause of the reason for wage loss, i.e., the reason that he or she is no longer able to earn wages.

In this case, the plaintiff suffered from work-related carpal tunnel syndrome.  She underwent surgery and was placed on job restrictions.  However, she continued to work for defendant until she was offered a retirement buyout, which she accepted.  She did not look for work after accepting the retirement package.

The plaintiff sought workers’ compensation benefits for her work-related carpal tunnel syndrome.  After addressing proofs presented by both sides, the magistrate concluded the true reason plaintiff was no longer earning wages was because she accepted a buyout (in short, she quit working after accepting her retirement package).  There was no evidence plaintiff looked for work after this date.

The Commission affirmed on plaintiff’s appeal.  The Commission reiterates the Supreme Court’s decision in Haske v. Transport Leasing, Inc., Indiana, 455 Mich. 628 (1977) held that a workers’ compensation claimant is required by MCL 418.301(1) to prove she suffered actual wage loss after a work injury and that the work injury caused the subsequent wage loss.  The Commission points out the various standards for proving disability and wage loss that have been modified and clarified since Haske did nothing to do away with this prima facie requirement of proof.

The Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones, LLP handled the appeal of this matter.  The firm’s workers’ compensation litigation department handled the proceedings below.

Lacey & Jones enjoys the reputation of being one of the oldest and most respected civil litigation defense firms in Michigan. Since the firm’s founding in 1912, we have established a strong relationship with businesses and insurers.

Our firm strives to continue to provide the best legal representation possible to our clients. We recognize each client’s particular need, whether it is to quickly negotiate a resolution of a claim, challenge non-meritorious claims through the trial process, or establish new law through the appellate courts.


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