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147335 - Hunter v Sisco

Harold Hunter, Jr.,
 
Allan Falk
 
Plaintiff-Appellant,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
 
 
(Genesee – Farah, J.)
 
David Sisco and Auto Club Insurance Association,
 
 
 
Defendants,
 
and
 
 
City of Flint Transportation Department,
Defendant-Appellee.
Crystal Olmstead
Anthony Chubb

Summary

This case arises out of an automobile accident that occurred July 20, 2009.  Plaintiff Harold Hunter’s vehicle was sideswiped by a dump truck owned by the City of Flint Transportation Department and driven by defendant’s employee, defendant David Sisco. A police officer determined that Sisco was at fault for the accident.
 
Hunter filed a lawsuit against the City of Flint Transportation Department, and others, to recover for the injures that he claims to have suffered in the accident.  The City of Flint filed a motion for summary disposition, arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed on governmental immunity grounds.  Under the governmental tort liability act, MCL 691.1407(1), “[e]xcept as otherwise provided in this act, a governmental agency is immune from tort liability if the governmental agency is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function.”  There are exceptions to this general rule of governmental immunity, however.  The “motor vehicle exception,” MCL 691.1405, provides that “[g]overnmental agencies shall be liable for bodily injury and property damage resulting from the negligent operation by any . . . employee of the governmental agency, of a motor vehicle of which the governmental agency is owner . . . .”  [Emphasis added.] 

In his complaint, Hunter alleged that he suffered shock and emotional damage as a result of the accident, as well as pain and suffering.  Hunter testified that he felt stress and disappointment, because he could not provide as well for his son as he had in the past, and that he could not participate in certain activities that he used to enjoy.  In its motion for summary disposition, the City of Flint argued that Hunter did not suffer bodily injury, and that Hunter’s claims of emotional damages were not contemplated in the motor vehicle exception. 

The trial court denied the City of Flint’s motion for summary disposition on the ground that facts remained in dispute about whether the auto accident caused Hunter’s injuries and the extent to which Hunter was injured. The trial court also ruled that, should he prove his claim, Hunter would be entitled to recover damages for pain and suffering from the City of Flint because the limitation to recovery for bodily injury “embraces and encompasses pain and suffering associated with the bodily injury . . . .”

The City of Flint appealed that ruling.  In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals held that damages for “shock and emotional damage” and “pain and suffering” were precluded under MCL 691.1405, the “motor vehicle exception” to governmental immunity, because the statute stated that a governmental agency may only be liable for “bodily injury” and “property damage.”  The panel explained that, “if the Legislature wanted to permit plaintiffs to recover within the motor vehicle exception damages for pain and suffering or emotional shock or stress, it could have done so by providing for ‘personal injury’ or emotional damages in the statute.”  The Court of Appeals reversed this part of the trial court’s ruling, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.  

Hunter appealed.  On November 20, 2013, the Supreme Court denied Hunter’s application for leave to appeal. On March 21, 2014, the Court reconsidered its earlier denial, and granted leave to appeal, limited to the question whether damages for pain and suffering, or emotional distress, may qualify as a “bodily injury” that permits a plaintiff to avoid the application of governmental immunity from tort liability under the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity, MCL 691.1405.