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Case examines duty of care of 17-year old bicyclist and motorist who struck her

Hali M. Steele was riding adjacent to another girl in the right lane of 14 Mile Road in Calhoun County.  The other girl was nearer the fog line as Ronald Gilis and Penny Gillis approached at 55 miles per hour in their minivan.  The minivan slowed to about 40 miles per hour when Hali reported "panicked" and swerved into the left lane in front of the Gillises.  Steele filed suit against Gillis for negligence, and a trial resulted in a verdict in favor of the minivan driver.  Steele's attorneys appealed, raising several arguments.

First, the Steeles argued that the Court mistakenly held the 17-year old to an adult "standard of care."  The Court of Appeals ruled that the jury was properly instructed that [a child] should be required to conform her conduct to that "of a reasonable person of like age, intelligence, and experience under like circumstances."

Next, the Steeles argued that in passing the kids on bicycles at 40 miles per hour, the driver of the minivan had failed to act reasonably in the presence of children and therefore should not be allowed to claim a defense of "sudden emergency not of his own making."  The Court disagreed, since the instruction provided to the jury allowed them to find that a sudden emergency existed "only if [the] defendant was exercising the greater vigilance required when one drives through an area where children are likely to be present." 

Finally, the Court held that the jury verdict in Gillis' favor was not "against the great weight of the evidence" because the circumstances existing could be considered "unusual and unsuspected" and a "potential peril [not] within the everyday movement of traffic," and in any event, the injured girl's attorneys had not met the procedural requirements to raise this issue on appeal.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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