High Court slaps down Judge Saad opinion for going too far
This week, the Michigan Supreme Court issued its long-anticipated opinion in two combined cases addressing a governmental entity's responsibility for negligent vehicle operation. In one of the cases, an MDOT salt truck blew a stop sign and seriously injured a would-be dental hygenist. The lower courts held that she was entitled to collect the wages that she would have earned, part-time, after completing the hygiene program that her employing dentist expected her to complete. MDOT appealed that ruling. In the other case, Court of Appeals Judge Henry Saad wrote an opinion holding that the City of Flint owed no damages for pain and suffering caused by a negligent Flint dump truck driver because "pain and suffering" aren't part of a "bodily injury."
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the dental assistant could not recover for future hygienist wages she would have earned because the testimony confirming her likely acceptance into a hygiene program was too "speculative." The Justices ruled that despite her employer's honest belief that she would be accepted into and complete the program, the evidence established only lost earning capacity, not actual probable wage loss.
The high court did rule in favor of the victim in the companion case, however, concluding that Judge Henry Saad had gone too far in attempting to void victim's injury claims. In a 7-0 vote, it noted that he had improperly conflated injury and damages and his opinion attempted to expand governmental immunity from bodily injury in a manner inconsistent with sixty years of Michigan case law.
Unfortunately, the high cour'ts analysis continues to leave open the question whether recent Supreme Court decisions will limit a family's right to collect damages for the loss of the society and companionship of a person negligently killed by the driver of a government-owned vehicle. One reading of the Court's decision (a reading certain to be grasped by governmental defendants) would suggest that a family member can't collect damages for the loss of a loved one because the family member didn't suffer a related physical injury. Thus "bodily injury" as an exclusion to governmental immunity might not include death...