The Michigan Court of Appeals struck down another claim for pain and suffering damages in a bus accident case last month. This ruling is another blow to people injured due to the negligence of a government funded bus, such as a SMART bus or MTA bus. It also marks another time where our states courts, in particular the Court of Appeals, has made a ruling that hurts injured persons based on form over substance.
This case, Fields v. SMART, docket no. 318235, deals with the Michigan Transportation Authorities Act (MTAA), MCL 124.401. This Act governs the operation of municipal and regional bus systems, such as SMART (metro Detroit), MTA (Flint), Saginaw Transit Authority and similar bus carriers. Under this law, all persons injured in an accident involving a carrier operating under the purview of the MTAA must provide written notice of a claim for personal injuries within 60 days of the accident. MCL 124.419.
This means if you have been injured while on a SMART bus, and you wish to pursue a claim for pain and suffering damages against SMART, you must provide a written notice to SMART within 60 days of the accident. If you fail to do so, you are forever barred from bringing a claim, even though the statute of limitations for these cases is 2 years.
In the Fields v. SMART case, a woman was injured while riding on a SMART bus allegedly due to the negligence of the bus driver. SMART conducted a full investigation into the a bus accident involving the plaintiff well before 60 days elapsed from the date of the accident. The investigation included internal documents and police reports that were prepared.
However, the plaintiff did not provide a formal written claim to SMART within 60 days of the accident. Instead, it relied upon the internal investigation SMART performed on itself following her injury as adequate notice to SMART.
The Court of Appeals held this was not adequate notice and dismissed her claim. Although SMART was well aware of the accident based on upon its own investigation, and even was aware Ms. Fields was injured within the 60 day time limit, because Ms. Fields herself (or through her attorneys) did not properly service SMART with a written notice within 60 days, her claim for compensation was dismissed.
This ruling follows a similar holding by the Court of Appeals in Nuculovic v. Hill, 287 Mich App 58, 63 (2010). In Nuculovic, the Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s claim that proper notice as given because SMART received a copy of a police report and accident reports prepared by the operator of the bus and his supervisor. The Court concluded that even though SMART had possession of these reports, the plaintiff failed to formally serve notice of her claim to SMART, and therefore the statutory notice requirement was not satisfied. The Court then dismissed the case.
These rulings highlight the minefields that exist for innocent passengers who are injured due to the negligence of bus operators on Michigan roadways. Instead of having two years to file a lawsuit in court, you actually only have 60 days to serve proper written notice to the defendant. And if you fail to dutifully follow this extremely short time limit, you are forever barred from claiming pain and suffering compensation.
The 60 day notice requirement was originally enacted to provide bus companies with some clarity on potential claims within a reasonable time following a bus accident. It makes little to no sense to dismiss a viable, solid case based on the 60 day notice rule when the defendant bus operator is already well aware of the pending claim. Yet using a procedural hurdle, the Court of Appeals again has found a way to dismiss a good claim.
The Fields v. Smart ruling is even more sinister when one considers that MCL 124.419 does not require that the party responsible for written notice be the plaintiff. Judge Shapiro, in a concurring opinion filed in the Fields v. SMART case, accurately points out that no where in the statute does it state the plaintiff must file the written notice. Therefore, it should be perfectly acceptable for SMART to provide notice to itself of a potential claim – such as the situation involving Ms. Fields. However, Judge Shapiro’s thoughts are not binding.
Once again in cases involving the government, buyer beware. If you or a loved one are injured in a bus accident, it is essential you contact a competent Michigan bus accident lawyer immediately to preserve the case. The Michigan bus accident attorneys at the Lee Steinberg Law Firm, P.C. can assist you with this and answer your questions. Please call us at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733).