Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #356829; Unpublished
Judges Markey, Boonstra, and Riordan; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Gross Negligence Exception to Governmental Immunity
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In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of Defendants Kenneth Arthur Temple’s and Ogemaw County EMS’s motions for summary disposition, seeking dismissal of Plaintiff Denise Ann Middleton’s auto negligence action against them. The Court of Appeals held that Middleton failed to present sufficient evidence to create a question of fact as to whether Temple—an EMS driver who Middleton crashed into in an intersection—breached his duty of care as the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle by failing to sufficiently brake before entering the intersection under a red light.
Kenneth Temple was driving an Ogemaw County EMS ambulance southbound, transporting a patient to the hospital, when he approached an intersection with a red light. His emergency lights and sirens were activated as he approached the intersection, he slowed to approximately five miles per hour before reaching it, and, while slowed, he ‘visually clear[ed]’ the intersection by looking both ways. Just after Temple entered the intersection, Denise Middleton, who was driving eastbound on the intersecting road, failed to observe Temple’s ambulance and entered the intersection, herself, under a green light. The vehicles crashed into each other, and in her subsequent deposition, Middleton claimed that the ambulance was ‘flying through’ the intersection, that she did not notice any lights or sirens upon entering the intersection, and that she did not notice any other vehicles yielding for an ambulance. A nonparty witness to the crash, however, testified that the ambulance made itself ‘clearly visible’ to other drivers on the roadway with its lights and sirens, that all other cars pulled over to yield to it, and that Temple slowed down to check for traffic as he approached the intersection. Similarly, a police officer who interviewed witnesses at the scene concluded that ‘[h]ad [plaintiff] been paying closer attention to her surroundings, she would have been able to see and hear the ambulance, as everyone else around her did, and she would have been able to yield to the emergency vehicle and avoid the accident.’ Furthermore, the officer opined that Temple ‘did everything correctly under the circumstances and was not negligent in any way.’
Middleton proceeded to file an auto negligence action against both Temple and Ogemaw County EMS, pursuant to the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity. Both defendants moved for summary disposition: Ogemaw County EMS argued that the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity did not apply because there was no evidence Temple was negligent; Temple argued that he could not be sued in his personal capacity because there was no evidence he was grossly negligent. The trial court disagreed on both counts, denying the defendants’ motions.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of both defendants’ motions, holding, first, that Ogemaw County EMS was entitled to summary disposition because Middleton failed to present sufficient evidence to create a question of fact as to whether Temple breached his duty of care under MCL 257.603(3)(b). That statutory subsection provides, ‘The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may . . . [p]roceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation.’ The Court noted that the Temple and another witness testified that Temple had slowed down before proceeding through the red light, and the only evidence that Temple failed to sufficiently slow his vehicle before entering the intersection was Middleton’s statement during her deposition. That evidence, in and of itself, the Court held, was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact considering the other available evidence.
“In this case, the trial court erred by determining that there was a question of fact regarding whether Temple ‘slow[ed] down as may be necessary for safe operation’ of the ambulance. See MCL 257.603(3)(b). The only evidence that plaintiff presented to show that Temple breached the duty of care was plaintiff’s deposition testimony that the ambulance was ‘flying through’ the intersection. This vague, non-contextual assertion, viewed in a light most favorable to plaintiff, was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact in regard to whether the ambulance Temple was driving slowed down ‘as may be necessary for safe operation’ before proceeding through the red light at the intersection. Plaintiff admitted that she did not see the ambulance until she was already in the intersection, which is when the collision occurred. Plaintiff presented no evidence with respect to Temple’s conduct as his ambulance approached the intersection before plaintiff saw it. On the other hand, Temple and the nonparty witness each stated in affidavits that Temple slowed down before proceeding through the red light.
Interpreting plaintiff’s testimony that the ambulance was ‘flying through’ the red light to mean that Temple failed to ‘slow down as may be necessary for safe operation’ requires too much speculation for purposes of summary disposition due to lack of specificity.”
Given the Court’s holding above, it further held that Temple, himself, was entitled to summary disposition, as there was no evidence his operation of the ambulance was grossly negligent.
“Because as a matter of law Temple did not operate the ambulance in a negligent manner, defendants’ causation arguments are rendered moot. Also, Temple himself is entitled to summary disposition as he was shielded by governmental immunity because he necessarily was not grossly negligent in operating the ambulance, MCL 691.1407(2)(c).”