Michigan Supreme Court Strikes Down Bus Accident Case

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Michigan Supreme Court Strikes Down Bus Accident Case – Atkins v. SMART

The radical conservative wing of the Michigan Supreme Court has struck yet again. In another 4-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled again for the insurance companies in holding an injured passenger on a SMART bus could not bring a claim for pain and suffering damages. The case is Atkins v. Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART).

The four justices in this case ruling in favor of SMART and its insurance company are the same four ultra conservative justices who have ruled in favor of the insurance company in every single Michigan personal injury case that has been issued by the Michigan Supreme Court this year.

In this case, the Court held that proper notice was not provided by the plaintiff, Vivian Atkins, to SMART after a bus accident she was involved in on September 15, 2006. Shortly after the accident, 10 days to be exact, Ms. Atkins filed a written application for no-fault benefits with SMART’s insurance. Further, following the bus collision SMART investigated the accident on its own accord, including obtaining a statement from the bus driver involved in the accident as well as preparing a transit accident report. Clearly, SMART had notice of the accident within a short time period following the accident.

Under Michigan law, specifically MCL 124.419, “all claims against that may arise in connection with the transportation authority shall be presented as ordinary claims against a common carrier of passengers for hire: Provided, That written notice of any claim based upon injury to persons or property shall be served upon the authority no later than 60 days from the occurrence through which such injury is sustained.” This means a person who wishes to pursue a claim against SMART must do so in writing within 60 days of the incident. In a completely misguided reading of the statute, the conservative majority held Ms. Atkins did not give proper notice to SMART, and as a result, tossed her claim out of court.

Although Ms. Atkins filed an application for no-fault benefits with SMART’s insurance company 10 days after the accident, she waited 7 months to notify SMART she wished to pursue a claim for pain and suffering. More significantly, she never provided a written notice to SMART that she wished to pursue a third-party claim. The Michigan Supreme Court used this fact as a sword, holding Ms. Atkins did not meet the statutory guidelines of MCL 124.419.

This holding by the Michigan Supreme Court is result-oriented jurisprudence at its worst. The four justices, all Republicans, wanted to toss this case out of court so the injured plaintiff could not seek redress for the injuries she sustained in the bus accident. The opinon was written by Justice Robert Young, the former head lawyer for AAA Insurance. In his opinion, Justice Young and three other justices held that because written notice was not presented to SMART within 60 days of the accident, Ms. Atkins is not entitled to her day in court. He reaches this conclusion despite the fact Ms. Atkins completed a no-fault application in writing for first-party benefits and presented this application to SMART and its insurance carrier within a week following the accident.

Yet, for Justice Young this was not sufficient because for some reason the no-fault application does not constitute “written notice”, as required by the statute. Although the statute only mentions the word “claims”, and does not specifically require separate notices for a first-party or third-party claim, Justice Young believes a separate notice must be presented for a pain and suffering claim third-party claim.

I wish I am surprised by this decision, but I am not. The four conservative justices who signed the opinion throwing out this case in favor of SMART and its insurance company have ruled in favor of insurance companies and against injury victims in EVERY SINGLE case that has come before them this term. Think about this for a second. The insurance companies have a 100% win rate in 2012. So if you are an injured person, and your case gets accepted by the Michigan Supreme Court for a ruling on some legal issue, you are vitrually guaranteed defeat.

Two of the justices who sided with the ultra conservative majority are up for re-election this November. They are Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra. Fortunately Michigan voters have the opportunity to restore balance and order to our state’s courts this November. Justices of the Supreme Court must consider each case fairly and simply apply the law and binding precedent to the facts of the case presented.

Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra instead do nothing of the sort – instead reaching a decision first and cherry picking the facts and overruling binding precendent to fit their needs. This type of action by our state’s highest court must come to an end.