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Traverse City Record-Eagle gets it right: Restoring our belief in the justice system

Personal injury attorney says Traverse City newspaper article puts Michigan Supreme Court partisan judges in their place

The Traverse City Record-Eagle ran an editorial the other day that I wish could be required reading for every Michigan voter. Because behind the auto insurance company propaganda campaign threatening to raise insurance rates after the McCormick v. Carrier decision last week, there lies a simple truth that has been ignored by almost every newspaper in Michigan.

That simple truth is that restoring Michigan’s auto accident and No-Fault insurance laws to the way the Michigan Legislature had previously defined and intended was part of a return to the proper role of the Michigan Supreme Court. This role is one of respect for precedent, stare decisis, and the rule of law after it had been usurped by four activist and very extreme Republican justices. These justices decided on their own to hijack Michigan’s entire car accident law and No-Fault insurance law by completely changing the standard the Legislature had set – and create in its place a new outrageously more restrictive standard that, as the Traverse City Record-Eagle succinctly states, “only the insurance industry embraced.”

I’ve written quite extensively on the injustices perpetuated by these four justices, and what I want to emphasize is that the most fundamental rule of all that every personal injury attorney and law student is taught – the respect for precedent and – was repeatedly usurped by these four justices as they followed a blatant partisan political agenda. It was a shameful period of Michigan jurisprudence, and only remaining shame is that three of these justices – Robert Young (up for election in November), Maura Corrigan, and Stephen Markman still remain on the Michigan Supreme Court.

Here’s what the Traverse City Record-Eagle had to say this week:

New Michigan Supreme Court is busy reversing ‘Gang of Four’

We’ve heard it dozens of times — claims of “activist” courts usurping the meaning and impact of laws passed by Congress or various state legislatures.

While those claims are usually nothing more than spin doctoring, Michigan had for years been the example that proved the claim.

From 1999, when Republican justices Steven Markman and Robert Young were appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court by former Gov. John Engler (he appointed Justice Maura Corrigan to the Appeals Court in 1992 and she joined the top court in 1999), until 2008, when voters booted chief Justice Clifford Taylor (a 1997 Engler appointee), the so-called “Gang of Four” or “Engler Majority” showed a brazen disdain for decades of precedents and the rights of common citizens to access the courts.

Now, with Justice Betty Weaver (a Republican) often providing the fourth vote, the court is undoing some of the most egregious rulings of the past decade and, as Justice Michael Cavanagh wrote in a recent opinion, “restoring, not departing from, the fabric of the law and this court’s fidelity to the Michigan Constitution.”

Perhaps the most significant change applies indirectly to one of the court’s most outrageous decisions — the 2007 ruling that undid the underpinnings of Michigan’s seminal Environmental Protection Act, which had been the law of the land for 37 years.

In the now-infamous Nestl? Waters North America case, the court ruled that the 1970 Environmental Protection Act wording, “The attorney general or any person (italics added) may” sue to protect “the air, water, and other natural resources … from pollution, impairment, or destruction,” didn’t actually mean any person. The court said only those who could prove personal harm from such pollution could sue.

It hardly could have been more flagrant. The Legislature had clearly given any person — which of course meant every person — the right and, indeed, the obligation, to protect Michigan’s most precious assets: “the air, water, and other natural resources …”

It was a call to arms to protect what Michigan held most dear.

Earlier this month, in an unrelated case, the high court overturned a 2001 Gang of Four decision and loosened the standard for filing some civil lawsuits, which also should undo the Environmental Protection Act prohibition.

The court also has returned to prior precedent in injury lawsuits; now, as before, the court says the law “merely requires that a person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life (after an accident) has been affected, not destroyed,” an outrageous standard that only the insurance industry embraced.

The court also ruled in favor of former Elmwood Township Supervisor Derith Smith, reversing a Court of Appeals ruling that Donald Barrows and John Stanek did not act with actual malice when they sent a negative mailing about Smith to township residents.

This is all about restoring access to and belief in the courts and, through them, justice.

Steve Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top personal injury lawyers handling serious car and truck accident injury cases and auto insurance No-Fault litigation. Steve speaks and writes extensively on McCormick v. Carrier and Michigan’s No-Fault laws. He is available for comment on Michigan’s new auto accident law.

Related information:

McCormick v. Carrier blogs

Michigan Supreme Court blogs

Michigan No-Fault insurance law

Michigan Auto Law is the leading largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state for more than 50 years. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you.

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