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Michigan Supreme Court limits financial recovery for car accidents

In general, car accidents occur because someone was not driving as safely as they should have been. A driver may have been distracted, intoxicated, or simply have made a decision or misjudged a curve. Whatever the specific cause, many accidents can be traced back to the negligence of a specific person who was behind the wheel of a motor vehicle during the accident.

But this is not always the case. There are times when an accident is caused by the condition of the roadway itself. It may be that the roadbed was negligently prepared. Thus resulting in potholes or buckling and that these problems in the road itself cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle and become involved in a car accident. Recently the Michigan Supreme Court examined the question of when public agencies may be liable to driver for problems in the road that cause accidents.

The case that brought this question before the Supreme Court involved a motorcycle rider who suffered substantial injuries to his back and legs. He claims the accident was caused by negligent road maintenance. Specifically, he lost control of his motorcycle when he unexpectedly found the highway covered in gravel that a road work crew scraped from the shoulder of the highway and left in the lane of traffic.

The Michigan Supreme Court, by a one vote margin, said that the man could not bring his lawsuit because depositing and leaving the gravel on the highway did not implicate the agencies duty to maintain the roadway in reasonable repair. This decision further clarifies a 2000 Michigan Supreme Court ruling which illustrated the scope of accidents for which governmental agencies may be liable based on the condition of the roadway. In that case the court had indicated that when the roadbed itself is defective and causes an accident the state agency may be liable.

Source: Lansing State Journal, "Michigan Supreme Court rules Oakland County can't be sued over motorcycle crash," Ed White, April 17, 2012

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