Court holds flagpole in enclosed school courtyard is part of the building
Angela Smith-Johnson sued the Ferndale Public Schools after her daughter, Angel, was killed when a courtyard flagpole broke, fell on Angel and killed her. The School system argued that it was immune from negligence claims arising out of the collapse of the 86 year-old flagpole. The child's family claimed that the flagpole was part of a public building and therefore within the exception to governmental immunity that applies to the negligent maintenance of public buildings.The lower court agreed with the family that the flagpole was a fixture in the school, noting that it was located in an courtyard that was fully enclosed by four walls and used exclusively for school functions. The school system appealed that ruling and also argued that it did not have notice of the rusted, decaying condition of the flagpole.
The Court of Appeals rejected both of the school's arguments. It confirmed the lower court's holding that the flagpole's condition, cemented into the enclosed courtyard, made it an integral fixture that was part of the building's structure, within the meaning of the public building exception to immunity.
The Court of Appeals also agreed with the lower court that the plaintiff family had established a question of fact with regard to the school sytem being on notice of the decaying condition of the flagpole, citing testimony by two experts retained by the family's lawyers. The experts, after examining the flagpole, noted that five or more years earlier, the school had painted over rust on the flagpole and should have observed its deteriorating condition.