Motor Vehicle Exception to Governmental Tort Liability Act
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of defendant City of Detroit’s motion for summary disposition in which it sought dismissal of the plaintiff’s third-party action against it. The plaintiff, Clinton Frazier, Sr., was injured after slipping on the wet floor of a bus he boarded, which was owned by the City of Detroit. The Court of Appeals held that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the bus driver acted negligently by accelerating without waiting for Frazier to be seated, especially considering the speed at which the driver accelerated and the wet condition of the bus’s floor.
Frazier, Sr. boarded a bus owned by the City of Detroit on a winter day, and before he was able to reach his seat, the bus driver, Martez Grice, accelerated. Frazier, Sr., who was holding a 20-pound drill set, slipped and fell on the wet floor and sustained injuries to his shoulder. While Frazier, Sr. testified that he was unaware of whether the bus’s floor was wet, Grice testified that sometimes, when it snowed, the floor would become “problematically wet.” Frazier, Sr. later filed a third-party action against the City of Detroit, and the City of Detroit moved for summary disposition, arguing that Grice’s action of accelerating without waiting for Frazier, Sr. to reach his seat was a normal incident of travel, and that the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity therefore did not apply. The trial court denied the City of Detroit’s motion, holding that “there was a factual dispute whether special and apparent reasons existed that should have caused Grice to wait for plaintiff to find a seat before departing, such as the speed at which Grice accelerated and the condition of the bus’s floor, combined with plaintiff carrying a 20-pound drill set.”
On appeal, the Court of Appeals noted that, typically, bus operators may accelerate without waiting for a passenger to reach his or her seat, and that such an action is a normal incident of travel. However, the exception to this general rule, as outlined in Getz v. Detroit, 372 Mich. 98 (1963), exists whenever there is a “special or apparent reason” why the driver should wait for the passenger to reach his or her seat before accelerating. Here, the Court of Appeals held that not only was there a question of fact as to whether Grice’s acceleration was “unnecessarily violent,” but that the fact that the floor may have been “problematically wet” from all the snow that was tracked onto the bus, combined with the fact that Frazier, Sr. was carrying a 20-pound drill set, created a possible “special or apparent reason” why Grice perhaps should have waited for Frazier, Sr. to be seated before he accelerated.
Grice testified that he was trained in the proper procedure to follow when passengers were getting on the bus. Grice later testified that either a wet floor or a passenger carrying a 20-pound drill set would require him to wait before driving off. Defendant argues that Grice was simply opining concerning how he subjectively felt passengers should be treated. Yet, when speaking about a passenger with a 20-pound drill set, Grice described what he would “have to do,” which, while not unambiguous, does seem to contemplate a procedure learned in training, as opposed to one that he adopted personally. Defendant also does not argue or present any evidence that its training takes a different position from the one espoused by Grice. This testimony by Grice was that of a trained bus driver, describing the precautions he would take under certain conditions. It provides further support that the factual questions noted above are indeed relevant to whether a standard of care was breached, and consequently to whether the driver was negligent. It was not error for the trial court to find that plaintiff presented questions of fact concerning whether Grice operated the bus negligently.