Supreme Court summarily dismisses death case against Royal Oak
The family of Thomas LaMeau sued the City of Royal Oak after LaMeau struck a utility pole guidewire embedded in the sidwalk, severing his spinal cord at the C-3 (neck) level. LaMeau had been at a party where he became intoxicated. He was riding home, on the sidewalk, on a motorized bicycle, in the dark. Unknown to him, one of Detroit Edison's utility guidewires posed a fatal hazard. The family argued that the City was negligent in failing to maintain a safe sidewalk and that two City employees were grossly negligent because they ignored multiple warnings from experienced individuals, and two prior incidents, and insisted on paving the sidewalk without requiring Edison to remove the guidewire. Both the trial judge and the Court of Appeals agreed with the family that these issues should be resolved by the jury. The Republican majority of the Michigan Supreme Court summarily disagreed, however, reversed the lower courts, and ordered the claims against the City and its employees dismissed. It did not issue an opinion, however, and explained its actions in one-sentence of a single paragraph order that made reference to the reasons offered by a lower court judge.
The three remaining Supreme Court Justices disagreed with this summary reversal and pointed out that neither the majority nor the lower court opinion it cited addressed numerous issues that were necessary to the Court's decision. In particular, it noted that the Supreme Court majority failed to address the undisputed fact that the temporary barricades relied upon by the City (and warned against as inadequate) had been removed by the night of LaMeau's death, leaving the sidewalk open to public travel. The fifty foot warning area recommended by contractors, pending relocation of the power line, had been rejected by the City employees, as had the two prior incidents involving bicylists unseated by the guy wire.
As the dissenting Justices pointed out, the Court's insurance-oriented summary, unexplained Order usurped the family's constitutional right to have a jury decide the facts of their claim.