Verdict against trucking company upheld on appeal; defendants objected to admission of driving record and standards
Michael Shekoski died after being struck, while on his bicycle, by a truck driven by Michael Bindig of Allied Excavating. Allied's insurance attorneys admitted that they were responsible for Bindig's negligence, if any, as Allied's employee, but objected to the family joining a claim of negligent entrustment. Allied argued that by claiming negligence, the family was able to admit facts showing Bindig's poor driving record, which Allied claimed was irrelevant and inadmissible in disputing who was at fault. The Court of Appeals ruled that in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, the family had the option of arguing a separate claim of negligence against the owner of the truck and admitting the facts to support that claim.
On appeal, the Defendants also criticized the trial judge for allowing the family's attorney to quote from and discuss the application to the incident of the Michigan Secretary of State's Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Manual and the JJ Keller safety manual.
It seems unbelieveable, but recent decisions of the insurance-oriented Michigan Supreme Court have called into question whether state and expert manuals and instructions may be admitted to establish the relevant standard of care. This is a development arising out of medical malpractice law, where doctors and insurers persuaded their protective judges to keep out of evidence the very manuals and instructions used by providers to guide their treatment. To apply this tortured logic to a manual published by the state explaining CDL requirements seems ludicrous, however, that was one basis of Allied's appeal.
The Court of Appeals noted that the insurance attorneys did not adequately brief the issue on appeal, however, and that they cited an irrelevant Court Rule: on that basis the remainder of Allied's appeal was also dismissed. The wrongful death judgment for the family, awarding it 70% of the family's damages (30% was deemed comparative fault by the decedent), was affirmed.