Summary disposition of a disabled young man's death case is affirmed in part; reversed in part
19 year-old William Beals drowned at the Michigan Career and Technical Institute, a residential facility for disabled students. He died during an open swim with 24 other students under the supervision of a single lifeguard who was "distracted...talking to girls and playing with a football." Beals was discovered underwater by another student after remaining submerged for 7 or 8 minutes. Beals' family sued the lifeguard and the State of Michigan for negligence.
The lifeguard sought summary disposition, arguing that there was no proof that he was "grossly negligent" and therefore he was immune from liability. The trial judge rejected this argument and the lifeguard appealed. The Court of Appeals recited the evidence of inattention and concluded that there was ample evidence for a jury to decide that the lifeguard's negligence was "grossly negligent" and the cause of Beals' death.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge's refusal to grant summary disposition to the State, however. It ruled that there was insufficient evidence to show that the state's management of the MCTI facility constituted a violation of the disabled man's civil rights. Judge Peter O'Connell dissented and would have granted the lifeguard immunity: in his opinion, the lifeguard couldn't be THE cause of death because he would simply be preventing a death, not causing it. Sounds like some kind of semantic baloney to us.