Small businessman discovers the difficulty of suing insurance companies in Michigan
Thomas Van Duinen runs the DeZaak Management company in Alpena, renting apartments. He insured the properties with AutoOwners. When one of the tenants trashed an apartment, Van Duinen made a claim which he alleged that AutoOwners devalued. When the parties couldn't achieve a settlement, he sued. On the first day of trial, the judge interrupted his testimony to question whether he could testify about the value of the damaged property in the apartment. The judge offered the opinion that the language of the insurance agreement only allowed him to collect the diminution in market value and not the repair or replacement cost. The judge also suggested that Van Duinen was not qualified to talk about the depreciation in the value of the apartment. The judge then suggested the parties discuss settlement before the case was dismissed, and allegedly told VanDuinen privately that if he didn't settle, the case would be dismissed with sanctions.
The parties agreed to settle the claim for $4500, but almost immediately Van Duinen attempted to back out. He alleged that the settlement was based on the judge's mistaken interpretation of the law and that he was pressured into an involuntary settlement. The Court of Appeals held that since Van Duinen agreed in court that the settlement was "knowing and voluntary," he was not justified in attempting to renounce the settlement. The Court pointed out that the trial judge never actually ruled on the damage and expertise issues, and that if Van Duinen disagreed with the Judge's application of the law, he should have waited until the court ruled and then appealed the ruling. Instead, he compromised the claim under pressure.
The Court also ruled that even if the Judge discussed the case privately with Van Duinen and pressured him to settle, this did not constitute grounds for invalidating the settlement.