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Supreme Court places slightly less onerous interpretation on building defect notice requirement

The Supreme Court's recent decision in Carla Ward v. Michigan State University helped to expose the raw political divisions on the Michigan Court.  Ward was severely injured when she was struck in the eye by a hockey puck.  She claimed the injury occurred because of the school's failure to replace a protective plexiglas on the perimeter of the rink, resulting in a safety defect.  She did not retain an attorney immediately, however, and when she did, the attorney's rushed notice was late, lacked details, mistakenly referred to an "automobile accident" on the pertinent date, and was sent to "MSU Munn Ice Arena," rather than an individual who could appropriately be served with pleadings.

On this basis, the Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit, despite the College's investigation of the incident on the night it happened, and its full knowledge of what occurred and when.  The Supreme Court returned the case to the lower court to determine whether the defects in notice had any practical impact, in accordance with the Court's recent decision in Chambers v. Wayne County Airport Authority

Three Justices of the Court wrote fairly uncivil assessments of the decision, arguing that the Court should have followed the Rowland v. Washtenaw County Road Commision decision, a 2007 holding of the so-called "Engler Gang of Four" that had reinforced a recent trend of strictly interpreting notice and immunity statutes to the detriment of injury victims.  The Chambers holding went against that latter trend and applied a more practical standard looking to whether prejudice had resulted to the government entity as a result of the "inadequate" notice.  This is the manner in which notice statutes were interpreted for several decades prior to cases like Rowland overturned existing precedent and reversed the trend.

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