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City's insurer's objections to notice requirements are rejected

In almost all situations where an injury victim seeks to make a claim against a governmental entity in Michigan, the victim is required by law to give formal notice to the at-fault governmental entity.  In the case of claims arising out of highways and sidewalks that are allegedly not maintained in a condition that is "reasonably safe for public travel", the injury victim must give notice to the entity having jurisdiction over maintenance of the sidewalk or highway within 120 days.  The Engler majority recently reversed the long-standing Supreme Court holding that the victim would be relieved of this requirement if the governmental entity suffered no prejudice from the failure to give notice.  Among many other anti-victim decisions handed down by the 4-3 majority of Engler appointees, the Court held that the Notice requirement would be strictly upheld, regardless of whether the governmental entity had actual notice of the defect and injury.

In response to the latter holding (which occurred in the Rowland v. Washtenaw Co. Rd. Comm. case) governmental entities have been abusing the Courts with attempts to dismiss claims based on the adequacy of victims' notices.  In Lawson v. City of Niles, the insurer took this effort one step too far, when it claimed that the injury victim did not provide it with notice of the "exact location and nature" of a sidewalk defect, even though the victim's family provided it with the general street location and photographs that identified the location with great specificity.  The insurer did not claim it could not find the defect, but claimed that under the statute the notice was defective because it did not include a street address.  The Court relied on the content of the photographs accompanying the notice to point out that the insurer's claim was inconsistent with the Michigan laws involving notice and also inconsistent with the purpose of the statute.  Thank goodness, with Justice Taylor gone, Michigan citizens can look forward to more judicial decisions based on common sense and good public policy and fewer holdings that elevate a harsh, arbitrary interpretation above good judgment.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
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