Leaving truck running, unattended and unlocked, isn't "operation of a motor vehicle?"
The Hinz v. Almy case has a long and tortured history. An MSU electrician left his college-owned pickup outside a building, unlocked and running, while he went inside to visit with co-workers. Besides not being very smart, that decision violated MSU's rules and an Ordinance of the City of East Lansing. Almy's decision was even dumber when one considers that MSU's campus is one of the places in the state where a drunken prank is most likely to occur. And it did. A drunken undergrad jumped in the truck and took off down the street, crossed the centerline a mile or two away, and killed the Plaintiff's Decedent in a head-on collision. The family sued Almy and MSU, in addition to the drunken student--probably in part because the drunk had little or no insurance, and in part on principle. MSU has been attempting to dismiss the case ever since and finally succeeded this week.
While most thinking people would agree that MSU's electrician was "negligent," more is required to hold him or MSU responsible. Because of the interference of "governmental immunity", MSU and its employee aren't held to ordinary rules of reasonable care. MSU is responsible for damages caused in the negligent operation of a motor vehicle, by statute, while Almy is only responsible for his mistakes if they evidence "gross negligence." Furthermore, Almy's disregard for safety must be "the" proximate cause of the injury or death, not just "a" cause.
The Engler Majority on the Supreme Court had a field-day re-writing the standards of liability under these statutes. All of its re-writing came back to haunt the family of the plaintiff in this case, when two Court of Appeals' activist judges applied the Engler Majority's decisions to grant immunity to Almy and MSU. First, the majority of two held that there was no question of fact in considering whether Almy's mistakes of judgment constituted "gross negligence," and that given the drunk's mis-behavior, Almy could not be THE cause of the death. (The lower court had determined that since the incident was forseeable and could not happen without Almy's bad decision, the ultimate question on that point was for the jury.)
Then, the case was dismissed in its entirety when the two judges ruled that Almy was not negligently "operating" his vehicle when he left it running, unattended and unlocked at night on a college campus. Frankly, this simply seems like a convenient fiction to secure a desired outcome, to us [read "judicial activism"]: next time you leave your vehicle running on the side of the road, see if you can avoid being held accountable, whether the issue is intoxicated operation, or simply negligence. Ordinary people without allies in the highest court are sent to jail or fined in this circumstance, regularly.