Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Blue Water Bridge Injury Case Dies Over Deadlines

For many people, filing paperwork isn’t at the top of their list after a serious personal injury accident. But a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision in a Blue Water Bridge injury case shows how important it is to get notices filed before the state-imposed deadlines expire, especially when the government gets involved.

Mr. Goodhue, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer, was assigned to work at the Blue Water Bridge. On April 8, 2015, he stepped into a hole in a toll booth lane and suffered a serious personal injury. Because the bridge is owned and operated by the State of Michigan, the case created additional notice deadlines and defenses within the context of “governmental immunity”.

Michigan Governmental Immunity in Personal Injury Cases

It is very hard to sue the State of Michigan in a personal injury case. That is because under Michigan’s Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA), government agencies cannot be sued for doing their jobs, even negligently, unless the activity falls within specifically defined exceptions. The Blue Water Bridge injury complaint raised three of those exceptions:
  1. The Highway Exception, which applies to the maintenance of roads and sidewalks
  2. The Public Building Exception, which applies to the maintenance of publicly owned buildings.
  3. The Proprietary-Function Exception, which applies to state efforts to raise money other than taxes or fees. (The Court of Appeals addressed this issue separately, and said it did not apply to the operation of the Blue Water Bridge.)
But each of these exceptions come with notice and filing requirements, which can make it even harder to sue.

State Notice of Claim Deadlines

The GTLA’s highway exception and public-building exception each require possible personal injury plaintiffs to file a notice of claim within 120 days (approximately 3 months) of the injury. These notices must:
  • Describe the specific location and nature of the defect that caused the injury
  • Explain the injury sustained
  • List the names of any known witnesses.
For local government agencies, these notices are filed with a specified agent, but for claims against the State of Michigan, they must be filed at the Michigan Court of Claims. Goodhue served the Department of Transportation (DoT) with a notice of claim 40 days after the injury, but did not send the notice to the Court of Claims until he filed his complaint 180 days after the injury. The Court of Appeals said by failing to file the notice he missed his deadline, and the claims could be dismissed.

When the State (or a local government) becomes a defendant, the process gets complicated, and deadlines get tight. A skilled personal injury attorney, like Dani K. Liblang of The Liblang Law Firm, PC, in Birmingham, Michigan, can make sure your case is properly filed and noticed, but only if you contact her quickly. If you have been injured because of governmental negligence, contact The Liblang Law Firm, PC, for a free consultation.

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