Teacher has no recourse when temporary wall falls causing injury.
Katie Martineau Caron sued Cranbrook, her employer, and several other parties, including a construction company and an architect, after she was seriously hurt while attempting to re-locate a portable room partition (PRP). The PRP was a seven-foot tall, 2100 pound temporary wall incorporated into the design of an "art classroom addition" designed and installed in 2002. It was not attached to the structure.
The school was dismissed from the lawsuit because Caron's exclusive remedy against her employer was the payment of medical expense and partial wage loss under workers compensation. The architects and engineers sought dismissal under a statute that limits the time in which claims arising out of "improvements to real property" may be pursued. Since the building was erected in 2002 and Caron wasn't hurt until 2009, the six-year limitation in the statute would apply to provide immunity to the professionals if the design and construction of the PRP was an "improvement to real property."Historically, "real property" has been interpreted to include land and structures attached to the land. Other property is "personalty" as distinguished from "fixtures." Nevertheless, a few limited exceptions have been recognized in the case of major "improvements" that are more-or-less permanent additions to the value of the land.
In a decision that would surprise few in Michigan's current legal environment, the Court held that this temporary, 7-foot wall was a "permanent" improvement to Cranbrook, thus eliminating the teacher's right to argue that the professionals negligently designed the facility. Her case was dismissed without any analysis of the professionals' alleged negligence, and costs were awarded to the defendants. Her injury recovery will be limited to payment of her medical expenses and partial wages.