Court recognizes that injured bicyclist provided evidence sufficient to justify jury trial
Robert Nunnaly bought a new bike at Dunhams, but before he put many miles on it, the left crank arm and pedal fell off while he was riding and he suffered serious injuries. He must have some redress, right? Not if you listen to some Republican judges. Thankfully, they weren't a majority in his case.
Several years ago, responding to special interest pressure, the Michigan Legislature eliminated product liability for retailers, unless the consumer could document active negligence by the retailer beyond simply selling a defective product from a defective or fly-by-night manufacturer. Essentially, the buyer is now required to prove that the retailer actually did something to the product that made it unsafe.
In Nunnally's case, he established that a company named General Assembly normally assembles most of the bikes sold by Dunham's and that it assembled all of the bikes sold at the particular location where Nunnally bought. Nevertheless, GA and Dunhams could not locate an invoice documenting that this particular bike was, in fact, assembled by GA. The defendant, GA, then argued that it was possible that another party assembled the bike, making Nunnally's claims against GA "speculative." The trial judge agreed and dismissed the claim for lack of proof that GA was, in fact, the negligent party.
Nunnally appealed and a majority of the Court of Appeals panel rejected this reasoning and outcome. It pointed out that a claimant need not eliminate every possible cause of injury other than the defendant, and that circumstantial evidence strongly supported Nunnally's claim that GA was the responsible party, since it would have required a "blatant violation" of Dunham's policies to support GA's alternative claims of causation. The judges also pointed out that additional circumstantial evidence supported the inference that not every GA-assembled bike showed up on an invoice or was properly documented. The judges concluded that a jury determination in Nunnally's favor was entirely possible and reasonable, based on this circumstantial evidence, and therefore he was entitled to his Constitutionally-protected trial by jury.
One judge, Michael Riordan, would have upheld the dismissal. He claimed that Nunnally's evidence was entirely "speculative," a buzz word that Michigan's Republican Justices use on a consistent basis to strike injury victim's claims if the defendant doesn't acknowledge fault. Riordan would prefer that Nunnally go without compensation, because the potential at-fault parties, Dunhams, GA and a second assembler who never assembled bikes sold at this store, did not maintain entirely accurate records. Instead of leaving the ultimate judgment of fault to the jury, after weighing the circumstantial evidence, Judge Riordan would dismiss all claims because no claim built by Nunnally on the Defendant's records can ever exclude every potential defense argument. Thank goodness, this was not the majority view; we'll see what the 5-member Republican Supreme Court majority says: don't be surprised if they adopt the "speculative" tag to grant summary disposition after all.