Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #358794; Unpublished
Judges Kelly, Murray, and Borrello; 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In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of Defendant City of Detroit’s motion for summary disposition, in which the City sought dismissal of Plaintiff Vanessa Ferriole’s auto negligence action against it. The Court of Appeals held that Casey Schimeck, a City of Detroit police officer, acted with reasonable care under the circumstances when she drove through a red light while responding to an emergency call, resulting in her police cruiser T-boning Ferriole’s vehicle.
Casey Schimeck was working for the City of Detroit police department, driving south on Alter Road, when she received a call from dispatch reporting a child trapped inside a vehicle. She activated her cruiser lights and siren and began driving at approximately 24 miles per hour over the posted speed limit to the location of the child. At some point en route, she reached Alter Road’s intersection with Charlevoix Road. She had a red light, but after slowing down, looking both ways and deciding it was safe to proceed through the intersection, she did so. Just as she entered the intersection, however, so too did a vehicle being driven eastbound on Charlevoix Road by Vanessa Ferriole. Ferriole testified that she had a green light at the time, and that she did not observe any police lights or hear Schimeck’s siren. Notably, there were two other drivers traveling Eastbound on Charlevoix Road ahead of Ferriole originally, who had arrived at the intersection before Schimeck’s approach, stopped at a red light of their own, then remained stalled after their light turned green so as to allow Schimeck—whose lights they both observed—to pass through the intersection. As Ferriole approached the two vehicles and the green light from the rear, she believed that the two vehicles were either parked on the side of the road or preparing to turn right at the intersection, and thus she passed them on the left and proceeded into the intersection. The dash cam footage from Schimeck’s cruiser showed Ferriole’s vehicle first becoming visible to Schimeck just as Schimeck was entering the intersection, at approximately 40-49 miles per hour, or five-to-15 miles over the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour. The result of both vehicle’s entering the intersection at the same time was Schimeck T-boning Ferriole’s vehicle with enough force to drive Ferriole’s vehicle into a nearby business. Ferriole thereafter filed an automobile negligence action against the City of Detroit pursuant to the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity. The City of Detroit moved for summary disposition, arguing that Schimeck had acted with reasonable care under the circumstances, given his status as the operator of an emergency vehicle. The trial court disagreed, denying the City’s motion.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the City of Detroit’s motion, noting, preliminarily, that “[w]hen a police officer drives in a manner that violates the orginary ‘rules of the road’ but is allegedly excusable pursuant to the . . . statutes applicable to police and other emergency vehicles, the question of the police officer’s negligence is not resolved by simply referring to the officer’s compliance, or lack thereof, with various statutes in the Michigan Vehicle Code; the question is more nuanced and involves consideration of whether the officer’s conduct was negligent under all the circumsances.” In this case, the Court found the relevant circumstances to be: (1) Schimeck’s responding to an emergency call regarding a trapped child; (2) Schimeck’s driving over the speed limit with sirens and lights activated; (3) Schimeck’s slowing down upon approaching the red light, looking both ways, and deciding to proceed through the intersection only after perceiving multiple vehicles stopped in observance of her oncoming vehicle; and (4) Schimeck’s inability to see Ferriole’s vehicle—which was behind the two aforementioned vehicles traveling eastbound on Charlevoix road—until the moment she entered the intersection. Based on these circumstances, the Court held that “no reasonable person could disagree that Schimeck acted with the care that a reasonably prudent person would have shown under similar circumstances in carrying out the official duties required of Schimeck as a police officer.”
“The record in this case reflects that Schimeck was responding to a call regarding a child trapped in a vehicle and that she was driving over the posted speed limit on Alter with her siren and flashing lights activated.
Although plaintiff testified that she did not hear the siren and plaintiff cites testimony from Sabella and another witness indicating that they did not remember hearing the siren, that testimony is immaterial to our analysis because we must simply consider whether Schimeck ‘observe[d] the care which a reasonably prudent [person] would exercise in the discharge of official duties of a like nature under like circumstances,’ McKay, 351 Mich at 418 (quotation marks and citation omitted), and there is no evidence that Schimeck did not activate her siren and flashing lights. The record evidence only supports a conclusion that the police vehicle’s siren and lights were operating. The dash camera video indicates that the siren and lights were active as Schimeck was driving on Alter until the crash. Jagger testified that he heard the siren, and Sabella testified that she saw the police car’s flashing lights. The fact that plaintiff did not hear the siren while her radio was on, and that two other witnesses did not recall hearing a siren, does not provide any evidence that the siren was not actually on and thus does not establish any question of material fact.
The record also indicates that as Schimeck approached the intersection, the light was red and she slowed down before entering the intersection. Schimeck was familiar with the intersection, looked both ways for moving traffic, and did not see any moving traffic. Schimeck only saw traffic that was ‘stopped,’ leading her to conclude that ‘they saw me with my lights and sirens coming through and that I could proceed.’
We conclude that no reasonable person could disagree that Schimeck acted with the care that a reasonably prudent person would have shown under similar circumstances in carrying out the official duties required of Schimeck as a police officer. McKay, 351 Mich at 417-418; Davis, 384 Mich at 142. Accordingly, there is no genuine question of material fact that Schimeck did not breach her duty to plaintiff.”