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Insurers enjoy another good day in Michigan's courts: four cases involving venue, dramshop, malpractice and a home fire; insurers win all

Yesterday the Michigan electronic reporter identified four cases involving insurance companies and the companies hit a grand slam--winning all four cases.  Nothing unusual in a state where special interests (insurers) dominate the nominating process, the election process and consequently the decision process in our state Supreme Court.  Here are the day's cases:

    1)  In Younkin v. Zimmer, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court and held that workers compensation cases need not be held in the County where the injury occurred.  Younkin had objected to attending court in Dimondale, more than 70 miles from his Genessee County home, and the Court of Appeals held that pursuant to statute, which provides that the hearing must be held in "the locality where the injury occurred," he was entitled to a hearing in Flint.  The Supreme Court upheld the State's decision to hold hearings only in 11 regional locations, reversed the Court of Appeals, and told Younkin that "locality" doesn't mean the same county.    

    2) In Ford v. Woodward Tap, Inc.,  the Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge and summarily dismissed the injury victim's case against a bar where a drunk struck the victim with a bottle.  The Court first cited our Supreme Court's recent holding that a victim cannot prove a drunk was served, while "visibly intoxicated," through the use of a toxicologist's testimony.  The Court then went one step further and held that the victim's observation that the drunk appeared to be drunk---before striking him---was inadmissible to prove visible intoxication.  It also held that the victim could not hold the bar accountable for allowing the video surveillance tape from that night to be erased.

    3)  In DuPree v. Auto-Owners Insurance Company, the Supreme Court overturned a judgment for a woman whose home burned, and granted the relief requested by her homeowners' insurance.  She had bought replacement cost coverage on her personal effects but had to take the company to arbitration for payment.  The arbitrator awarded her $167,923, including depreciation of $39,673.48.  Auto Owners maintained that she was not entitled to the depreciation amount because she hadn't gone out and bought the items lost, yet.  The Circuit Court granted her summary judgment and the Court of Appeals upheld that decision in July of 2013.  The Supreme Court reversed and ruled that since she had not yet purchased replacements (before having the money to do so...) she was not entitled to replacement value coverage--whether she thought that was what she was buying or not.  Interestingly, the high Court characterized paying for damaged property as "awarding plaintiff the replacement cost," as though it were an unearned, and un-paid benefit like winning the lottery.  Normally arbitration decisions are binding absent fraud or misconduct, but in this case, the Court ruled that since the decision involved a question of "coverage," it was not binding.

4)  In VIa v. Beaumont Health System,  et al., a panel of the Court of Appeals ruled that a malpractice victim's claim should be summarily dismissed.  Via had been admitted to the Hospital, where she suffered a choking episode resulting in intubation, cardiac arrest and resuscitation.  It turned out that she had a pill wrapper stuck in her esophagus.  The Beaumont nurse testified that she had fed Via six pills with applesauce, but that she hadn't accidentally fed her a pill wrapper or left one where the confused, semi-conscious woman could have ingested it on her own.  The family presented the testimony of a nurse expert who testified that this kind of event should not happen.  The expert offered the opinion that the nurse had either negligently fed Via the pill wrapper or left it where it the admittedly confused, semi-conscious patient could self-ingest it.

The Court held that the nurse expert's testimony was too speculative and that the family could not prove that the pill wrapper came from the nurse--since the nurse denied that she accidently administered it or left it where the patient could reach it.  The Court went on to hold that the family had NOT proved that this kind of event does not usually occur without negligence "because this type of injury does not ordinarily occur at all;" and therefore it could not be in the "common understanding" that it would not occur in the absence of negligence.  It held that the pill package was not in the hospital's exclusive control because the husband had visited the woman.  It held  that the family had not proved that the pill package was not consumed by the voluntary action of the (confused, semi-conscious) patient--even though the nurse denied leaving pill packages in her vicinity; and D) that "the true explanation of the event" was not more readily available to the Hospital (even though the woman had virtually no memory of the entire hospitalization).

Does this sound like a level playing field to a reasonably objective observer?

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
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