Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #359764; Unpublished
Judges Cavanagh, O’Brien, and Rick; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Applicability of Comparative Fault to Noneconomic Loss Claims [§3135(2)]
Evidentiary Issues [§3135]
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Ethan Tyler Craig’s auto negligence action against Defendant Timothy Lee Wegienka. The Court of Appeals held that Craig failed to present sufficient evidence to create a question of fact as to whether Wegienka’s conduct was the cause in fact of the subject motor vehicle-versus-pedestrian collision.
Timothy Lee Wegienka was driving down the roadway at night and in rainy conditions when Ethan Tyler Craig entered the roadway on foot, resulting in a collision between Craig and Wegienka’s vehicle. Wegienka was driving approximately five-to-ten miles under the speed limit at the time of the collision, and he later testified that he did not see Craig until ‘the last second,’ at which point it was impossible to avoid a collision despite his attempt to brake and swerve around Craig. The evidence also demonstrated that there were no streetlights in the area where the collision occurred, that Craig was wearing dark clothing and probably high on drugs, and that Craig was not crossing the roadway at a crosswalk. Craig later filed an auto negligence action against Wegienka, and Wegienka moved for summary disposition, arguing that Craig had failed to present any evidence that Wegienka’s conduct was a cause in fact of the crash. The trial court agreed, granting Wegienka’s motion.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order, holding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that Wegienka’s conduct was a cause in fact of Craig’s injuries under Skinner v Square D Co, 445 Mich 153 (1994). Each one of Craig’s allegations—“that Wegienka was traveling at too fast a speed [for the conditions], that Craig had been in the road long before Wegienka noticed him, and also that light was visible on the road at the time of the accident”—were, to quote the Court, “merely conjecture.” Not only was there no evidence in support of any of these allegations, but four separate police officers concluded that Wegienka was not at fault for the collision and that the collision was likely unavoidable from Wegienka’s perspective.
“Conversely, plaintiff failed to provide any evidence that Wegienka’s speed at the time of the collision was a cause of the accident. She merely speculates that, because the accident occurred, Wegienka must have been driving at an unsafe speed. While plaintiff highlighted evidence that Dix Toledo Highway was illuminated by light poles from the parking lot of a dentist’s office near the scene of the accident, plaintiff failed to provide evidence that the accident occurred directly adjacent to this parking lot, nor did she provide evidence that this illumination provided sufficient light to allow Wegienka to see Craig in the rain before the collision. However, testimony was provided that the police required flashlights to investigate the accident scene because of the darkness at the accident scene. Similarly, with regard to her claim that Craig was in the road long before he was noticed by Wegienka, plaintiff only speculates that Wegienka should have seen Craig because he had already crossed four lanes of travel before the collision occurred. However, we again note that plaintiff’s claim is speculation, and she provided no evidence that Wegienka should have seen Craig before the collision.
Given the evidence presented to the court, plaintiff has failed to ‘present substantial evidence from which a jury may conclude that more likely than not, but for . . . defendant’s conduct, . . . plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred.’ Skinner, 445 Mich at 164-165. ‘[A] basis in only slight evidence is not enough.’ Id. at 164. Plaintiff merely speculates that Wegienka was traveling at too fast a speed, that Craig had been in the road long before Wegienka noticed him, and also that light was visible on the road at the time of the accident. The ‘slight evidence’ regarding light from a dentist’s office parking lot is not sufficient evidence ‘from which a jury may conclude that more likely than not’ plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred. Skinner, 445 Mich at 164-165. Similar to this Court’s conclusions in Latham, the record in this case is ‘devoid of any evidence that [defendant] failed to drive his vehicle in a prudent manner, that he was negligent in its operation, or that his actions in any way caused the accident in question.’ Latham, 239 Mich App at 342. Like the plaintiffs in Latham, plaintiff’s assertions regarding Wegienka’s speed at the time of the collision, the lighting on the road, and the length of time for which Craig was present in the road were merely conjecture. We note that, similar to this Court’s reasoning in Latham, that ‘[t]here must be more than a mere possibility that unreasonable conduct of the defendant caused the injury.’ Id. (quotation marks and citations omitted). Because plaintiff failed to meet the burden set forth in Skinner, and thus failed to demonstrate that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Wegienka’s conduct was a cause in fact of Craig’s injuries, the trial court did not err in granting defendants’ motion for summary disposition.”