Court upholds summary disposition of handicapped child's case against Macomb County
Melanie Sokolowski sued Macomb County on behalf of her daughter, Skylar, after Skylar was thrown from her wheelchair and suffered serious injuries while being transported on her school bus. The bus driver claimed that when the bus hit a "crown" at the intersection of 24 Mile Road with Hayes Road, it "bucked" so violently that Skylar was thrown from the chair.
As it turns out, the slope of the approaches to the intersection, re-built in the 1990s, significantly exceed design parameters and standards. The County was responsible under Michigan law to maintain the road so that it is "reasonbly safe for public travel," and Skylar's mother sued on her behalf claiming a violation of this statutory duty.
Even though the County had admitted that the road was "unreasonably dangerous," the trial judge allowed the County to withdraw this admission and then granted it summary disposition. The Court held that because the admitted flaw originated in the intersection design, the statutory duty to repair and maintain a reasonably safe roadway was not violated. This distinction based upon whether there were design components to an unsafe roadway, was first raised by the Republican majority of the Supreme Court during the "Engler era" to grant broader immunity to road authorities.
When Skylar's mother appealed, the Court of Appeals noted that the 2002 distinction applies to this action and that the County owed no duty to "repair or maintain" the non-standard, dangerous intersection. It also taxed costs to the Road Authority against Skylar's mother. Think she may be cynical about justice in Michigan's courts?