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Boy cannot sue transit authority or bus driver over alleged negligence

Rajah Booth was 16 years old when he started the new school year at Flint Schools of Choice and began utilizing the MTA bus to get to his new school.  The first week, he dismounted the bus and attempted to cross the street when he was struck by another vehicle and suffered catastrophic injuries including an amputated arm and a head injury.  His mother sued the bus driver, the employee responsible for designating bus stops and the agency for negligence.  The family claimed that the location of the bus stop was unsafe and violated a City ordinance because it did not allow adequate sight distance for riders to cross the street safely.  The family also claimed that the driver was negligent in sounding his horn as he anticipated the collision, believing that this contributed to Booth's error in stepping in front of the oncoming car.  Lastly, the family argued that pursuant to transit rules, the driver should have instructed Booth to exit by the rear entrance where he would enjoy a safer sight distance.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge and granted all of the Defendants' requests for summary disposition based on governmental immunity.  It held that the errors of the driver and the administrator who failed to comply with the sight distance ordinance did not constitute "gross negligence."  It also stretched, quite disappointingly, to hold that the mistakes of the driver which might have constituted actionable negligence by the agency  did not cause injuries that arose out of the "operation of a motor vehicle." 

Under an exception to the Michigan laws defining governmental immunity, when a governmental agency owns and operates a vehicle, the agency can be held responsible for negligent operation of the vehicle, even though individual government employees are held accountable only for "gross negligence."  To avoid a jury decision with regard to basic negligence, the Court of Appeals in this case engaged in a semantic exercise that has become popular with activist Republican judges:  it basically defined the incident and the operation in such a manner that allowed it to conclude that even negligence by the agency in operating the bus did not constitute "operation of a motor vehicle" causing injury.

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