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Michigan court ruling leads to revived wrongful death case

In the aftermath of a car accident, it is sometimes very clear who is at fault. A driver may have run a red light or been under the influence of alcohol, for example. In other cases, it can be very complicated to determine who is liable when a car accident results in injury or death.

Late last month the 6th Circuit revived a car-motorcycle accident case in which a car that was leading another car took an illegal U-turn, with the following car's U-turn resulting in a fatal collision with a motorcycle. The wife of the deceased motorcyclist filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver in the leading vehicle, but the court ruled in favor of that driver granting a summary judgment. Now, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit has reversed that court's filing, citing an earlier case that took place in Michigan.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has previously ruled that a driver who agrees to lead the way for others takes on a voluntary duty, and can thus be held accountable for accidents that are caused when a trailing driver mimics the leading driver's actions.

In that case, a driver was leading a caravan of vehicles that were all unfamiliar with the route. At a sharp turn, the leader lost control of the vehicle and drove off of the road, and one of the trailing vehicles did the same thing and stuck a tree. A passenger in that trailing vehicle was killed.

The court found that the leading driver had a responsibility to drive reasonably due to the risk associated with all of the drivers following him. Thus, the appeals court said the lower court erred in granting summary judgment, a court order that no factual issues remain to be tried.

In this motorcycle accident case, the 6th Circuit has revived the case saying that a jury could find the lead driver knew that any careless or reckless driving would be followed by the driver behind him and result in danger.

Source: Courthouse News, "Court Erred in Motorist Wrongful Death Case," Joe Harris, Sept. 24, 2012

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