Court reverses summary dismissal of road liability claim against Washtenaw County
Karen Utley sued the Road Commission after suffering severe injuries when her motorcyle hit a pothole on Zeeb Road in Lodi Township. One of her riding companions estimated that the potholed was six inches deep and 2-3 feet in diameter. Others described it to police as "large" or "significant." The Road Commission prevailed on the trial judge to dismiss Utley's claim on summary disposition by arguing that the pothole had been repaired three days prior to Utley's crash, but that a sudden rain fall had washed out the repair. The Road Commission persuaded the local judge that it had taken appropriate steps to keep the road in reasonable repair.
The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that given the evidence about the extent of the pothole, it was a question of fact for jurors to determine whether the Road Commission's efforts at amelioration were adequate. It held that "the mere presence of so large a pothole less than three full days after the road was spot-scraped supports a reasonable inference that the pothole was not repaired." It also cited the Plaintiff's engineer expert, a gentleman with 30 years road maintenance experience with MDOT, who claimed that the pothole was "a high level severity pothole that's not been attended to." Surprisingly, even Judge Christopher M. Murray, who virtually never sides with injury victims, agreed with the appellate court holding.