Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #356754; Unpublished
Judges Redford, Sawyer, and Murray; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Motor Vehicle Exception to Governmental Tort Liability Act
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of Defendant Rashaad Cormier’s motion for summary disposition, in which Cormier sought dismissal of Plaintiff Shannon Edwards’s third-party, gross negligence claim against him, and remanded for entry of an order granting Cormier’s motion. The Court of Appeals held that Cormier, a Michigan State Police trooper, was not grossly negligent in performing a U-turn while attempting to effectuate a traffic stop, which resulted in a collision between his patrol car and Edwards’s vehicle.
Shannon Edwards and Rashaad Cormier, an on-duty police officer, were each driving southbound in their respective vehicles—Cormier some distance ahead of Edwards, and in the lane to Edwards’s right—when Cormier spotted a vehicle traveling in the opposite (northbound) direction, that he felt compelled to pull over. In order to effectuate the stop, Cormier needed to U-turn across Edwards’s left-turn lane to reach the northbound lanes. Thus, Cormier waited seven seconds for northbound traffic to clear, then checked his blind spot and began turning into Edwards’s lane simultaneously. His delay in checking his blindspot meant that he did not notice Edwards’s oncoming vehicle, which collided with his patrol car as soon as he crossed her lane. Edwards was pregnant at the time of the collision and lost her child as a result. Thereafter, she filed a third-party action against Cormier, alleging gross negligence, which took her claim outside the scope of governmental immunity. Cormier moved for summary disposition, but the trial court denied his motion, ruling that a question of fact existed as to whether he acted with gross negligence.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of Cormier’s motion, holding, as a matter of law, that Cormier was not grossly negligent. The Court noted that the “governing standard [for gross negligence] is focused on a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury will result.” In this case, the Court held that several actions of Cormier’s proved that he did, in fact, demonstrate sufficient concern for whether the injury would result from his attempt to perform a U-turn. Specifically, the Court noted that Cormier waited several seconds for northbound traffic to clear before he began turning, and that he did check his blind spot—albeit too late—as he did so. These actions demonstrated concern for the safety of others such that Cormier’s actions, as a matter of law, could not be said to have risen to the level of gross negligence.
“When examining all the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, reasonable minds could not differ regarding whether defendant’s conduct constituted gross negligence. See Wood, 323 Mich App at 424. The video evidence demonstrates that defendant waited seven seconds for northbound traffic to clear before turning and crossing over the left-turn lane. Thus, defendant was cognizant of the need for traffic to be clear before making the turn. And, the video also shows (again, in the light most favorable to plaintiffs) that defendant checked his blind spot just as he started the U-turn. Although defendant should have looked a few seconds earlier, his actions nevertheless showing a concern for whether traffic was coming down the left turn lane, and not a disregard for the safety of others. Though it is unclear whether defendant signaled that he was turning left or that he was effectuating a traffic stop by using his sirens, there is no dispute his actions revealed a concern for both northbound and southbound traffic. Nothing in the record points to any conduct by defendant showing a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury would result.
We reject plaintiffs’ argument that a question of fact exists because defendant failed to check the blind spot or signal before attempting to cross several lanes of oncoming traffic while attempting a U-turn. Again, the video shows at most that defendant checked his blind spot a second too late, not that he failed to check at all. And that makes a significant difference when the governing standard is focused on a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury will result. Additionally, that defendant’s actions may turn out to be a moving violation is not helpful to plaintiffs’ cause, as Poppen makes clear that evidence of a violation of the motor vehicle code is at most evidence of negligence, not statutory gross negligence.”