Tragic bus accident result shows why Michigan law must change
Talk about putting form over substance. That’s exactly what happened after a SMART bus accident caused serious injuries to a completely innocent woman. SMART bus relied upon putting form over substance to allow it to escape responsibility for serious, debilitating personal injuries it caused one of its most vulnerable wheelchair-bound passengers.
In Eugene Rose v. Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation [SMART bus], et al., SMART bus got Eugene Rose’s lawsuit thrown out of court by insisting it didn’t have proper “notice” of the injuries Mr. Rose suffered in a Detroit accident involving one of its buses – even though SMART bus knew about both the bus accident and the serious nature of Mr. Rose’s injuries.
You see, Michigan residents are actually punished if they don’t run to a lawyer right away after if they’ve been injured in a bus accident. And they are punished in the most drastic way – they lose any right to sue for their injuries, no matter how serious or catastrophic those injuries may be.
This is all because of a tiny loophole that requires strict notice be provided by accident victims within 60 days. No exceptions. No room for common sense. No regard for public policy or reaching a just result. And no case better illustrates this than what happened to Eugene Rose after his bus accident.
On April 23, 2006, Mr. Rose, who was in a three-wheel, motorized wheelchair, rode as a passenger on a SMART bus. When the bus took a sharp turn, it caused Mr. Rose’s unsecured wheelchair to tip over, throwing him to the floor. He suffered very serious injuries that were obvious at the scene. In fact, he was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, having suffered a fractured hip and left femur.
SMART certainly knew instantly all about Mr. Rose and his injuries. It was a SMART bus that caused the accident, and the bus was being driven by a SMART bus employee. Reports had to be filled out. In fact, SMART bus received incident reports, as well as a police report, presumably, from both its own bus driver and from the property owner on whose property the accident occurred.
Nevertheless, to avoid responsibility for the serious injuries it inflicted, SMART bus complained that Mr. Rose shouldn’t be able to sue because he hadn’t personally told SMART bus about his bus-accident-related injuries within 60 days of the accident.
Never mind that SMART bus had already been told what happened by its own driver and by a property owner.
Sounds ludicrous, right?
But what’s even more ludicrous is it was enough to get SMART bus off the hook. SMART escaped all responsibility for causing Mr. Roses’ injuries because she had not personally given SMART notice within 60 days.
Sadly, four Michigan judges bought into SMART bus’s argument. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John A. Murphy relied on it to grant SMART bus’s motion to dismiss, and Michigan Court of Appeals Judges Deborah A. Servitto, Richard A. Bandstra, and Karen M. Fort Hood affirmed Murphy’s decision to throw Mr. Rose’s personal injury lawsuit out.
It actually isn’t their fault. Judges are duty bound to follow the law. The fault lies with our Michigan law. It’s very, very dumb. SMART took advantage of a very dumb law, with a public policy that could not be worse for Michigan residents and for all people who ride buses or depend upon public transportation.
All of the judges agreed with SMART bus’s “form over substance” contention that the “notice” law for transportation authorities — which protects negligent bus operators like SMART bus at the expense of innocent, powerless, legally-untrained passengers like Mr. Rose — applied in this case to compel the dismissal of Mr. Rose’s lawsuit.
The law, MCL 124.419, says that any public transportation authority must have “written notice of any claim based upon injury to persons or property shall be served upon the [transportational] authority no later than 60 days from the occurrence through which such injury is sustained …”
That was enough for the judges. And that was it for Mr. Rose. “That SMART was provided an incident report by its own employee, and by the shopping center where the injury occurred does not suffice to meet [the statutory notice] requirement,” the Court of Appeals judges said.
Consequently, SMART bus will not be held accountable for the injuries its negligence caused Mr. Rose to suffer. And, to me, that’s just plain dumb.
– Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top experts in serious car and truck accident injury cases and automobile insurance no-fault litigation. Michigan Auto Law has received the largest reported jury verdict for an automobile accident case in Michigan in seven of the past 10 years, including 2009, according to published year-end verdicts and settlements reports.
– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Jason McHuff
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