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Michigan Supreme Court rejects day in court for woman who sued one day early

Barbara Zwiers sued her doctor, Sean Growney, and his Kent County professional practice for medical negligence.  She claimed that she suffered serious injury because of his lack of due care.  Among the many special "tort reform" rules adopted by the Michigan Legislature at the request of doctors and their insurers, is a requirement that a patient must serve a complicated Notice of Intent to Sue on her (or his) doctors, and then wait 182 days, before filing a malpractice suit.  This mandatory "waiting period" was ostensibly intended to allow doctors and their insurers to investigate and resolve claims without clogging the courts. 

Anyway, Zwiers or her attorneys filed the mandatory, complicated notice and then apparently miscalculated the 182-day period.  Since it often "tolls" or extends the statute of limitations, the period or "window" during which the case may be filed can be as short as a single day, so time is often of the essence.  At any rate, Zwiers' case was one of three, thus far, where the plaintiff mis-counted and filed on the wrong day.  Her attorneys filed one day early.

The Court of Appeals looked at the entirety of the situation and concluded that Zwiers' Complaint could be amended to move the filing date back one day.  It noted that no prejudice would result to the Defendants, and that in this situation "the interest of justice" warranted the amendment of Zwiers' pleading.  Another Court of Appeals presented with the same situation reached a similar conclusion.

The Republican majority of the Michigan Supreme Court rejected this analysis, however, and has now overturned both cases.  The insurance-friendly Republican nominees to the Court profess to believe that all rules must be followed precisely; that "substantial compliance" is inadequate; that the question of prejudice to the adverse party is irrelevant; that "the interests of justice" need not be weighed in the analysis; and that, in general, dismissing claims and having fewer lawsuits is a good outcome in and of itself--regardless of merit.  This represents a landmark change in Michigan jurisprudence, which had, for decades, celebrated a weighing of prejudice, substantial compliance and justice in evaluating time deadlines and requests to amend pleadings.  As one Republican Justice recently recognized, however, these strict rules of pleading are all-too-often applied by the pro-insurance activists only to victims' claims and not equally to defense pleadings.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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