Woman rear-ended by U of M bus cannot sue
Linda Kleinschmidt was rear-ended at a stop light by a U of M bus on a snowy day in January of 2005. The bus was being test-driven by a University mechanic. He claimed that the brakes did not operate properly--brakes, by the way, that it was his duty to inspect and maintain. He later testified that if he had performed the careful inspection he was legally obligated to perform every 6,000 miles, he would have discovered that the air lines to the rear brakes were installed backwards and the speed sensors on the front wheels were also installed improperly. Under Michigan law, a government employee is only liable for "gross negligence." Kleinschmidt sued the University and the mechanic, claiming that her injuries, which apparently included a disc herniation , were a "serious impairment of bodily function."Unfortunately, Kleinschmidt or her attorneys failed to file a written notice of claim with the University within six months of the incident, so her claim against the University was dismissed. Thus, her only recourse was against the driver/mechanic and she was forced to prove not just negligence, but "gross negligence." The Court of Appeals judges ruled that the mechanic's admitted failure to perform reasonable and required safety inspections of the bus braking system every 6,000 miles raised only a question of negligence--not gross negligence. It decided as a matter of law that a reasonable jury could not conclude that the mechanic's admitted systematic failure to properly inspect the vehicle's braking system was a "willful disregard of precautions or measures to attend to safety " or a "singular disregard for substantial risks."
The Court's opinion took pains to relate that immediately after the collision, Kleinschmidt told the mechanic driver that she was not injured: it seems likely that the judges were [improperly] influenced toward deciding the factual issue of degree of negligence by the judges' perception that the Plaintiff's injuries were being over-stated or magnified.