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Road Commission owes no duty to remove fallen trees from the traveled roadway

Rand O'Leary sued Wayne County's Department of Public Services after his decedent, Thomas Truett, was killed in a motorcycle accident.  More than a week earlier, a storm had blown down a tree and it protruded into the traveled lane of Willis Road, more than 12" beyond the fog line.  A week after the tree was reported to the road authority, Truett was traveling with 10 other riders when they encountered the tree still blocking their lane.  The first rider swerved, the second went off into a ditch, and Thomas Truett, the third rider, struck the tree, was thrown from his bike, and suffered fatal injuries.

The trial judge dismissed the wrongful death claim against the Road authority, even though it was statutorily required to maintain the traveled portion of the roadway in reasonably safe condition.  O'Leary appealed on behalf of the Truett Estate.  The Court of Appeals panel pointed out that under recent Supreme Court decisions, the road autority's duty only requires it to fix the pavement and nothing more.  The Republican activist majority on Michigan's Supreme Court has reinterpreted the statutory duty to "maintain" the road, eliminating any duty to remove debris or replace traffic control signals and signs.

Regardless of the judges' own opinions in the matter, they explained that they were bound to rule that the County could leave the tree in the traveled roadway forever without incurring liability:  its responsibility had been limited to repairing defects in the roadbed itself, and according to the explicit language of the Republican majority, a tree encroaching on the travel lane--even if it occupied the entire lane for a month or a year--did not fall within the statutory duty to maintain a roadway "in reasonable repair and in a condition reasonably safe and fit for travel." 

This is Republican justice and activism at work, protecting Michigan commerce from frivolous lawsuits.

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