Typically, when a person is injured due to the negligence of another person or entity, the process of filing a personal injury lawsuit is straightforward: make sure you file your lawsuit before the applicable statute of limitations expires to preserve your claims. However, when a government employee or entity injures someone in Michigan, there are additional procedural hurdles an injured party must jump over before filing a lawsuit against that employee or entity.
The Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) generally shields government employees and entities from tort liability “if the governmental agency is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function.” In addition to this protection given to governmental entities, there are certain notice requirements that an injured person must follow, depending on the type of claim they want to file.
For example, if a person is injured due to a defective highway, they must serve a notice letter to the governmental agency including the exact location and nature of the defect, the injury suffered, and the names of the witnesses known at the time within 120 days from the time the injury occurred (180 days if the injured person is under the age of 18 at the time the injury occurred). This notice must be served on an individual who may lawfully be served with civil process directed against the governmental agency and, in the case of the state (as opposed to a municipality), must also be filed with the clerk of the Court of Claims. If this notice is not properly served within this time period, then the claim against the government entity is forever barred.
Champine v. DoT Simplifies Notice Requirements
On July 6, 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a promising ruling for injured persons maneuvering these notice requirements in a case called Champine v. Department of Transportation. In Champine, a motorist was traveling on I-696 in Macomb County when a 20-pound piece of concrete broke away from the highway and smashed through his windshield. Several weeks after the incident, Champine mailed a notice letter to the Michigan Department of Transportation, but he did not file it with the Court of Claims. However, before the 120 days elapsed, Champine filed his lawsuit in the Court of Claims. Despite this, both the Court of Claims and Court of Appeals ruled against Champine saying that he failed to provide proper notice of the lawsuit pursuant to the requirements of the GTLA.
In reversing the lower courts, the Michigan Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Richard Bernstein, agreed with Champine. Because the lawsuit was filed within the 120-day time period and included all the information required by the GTLA to be part of the notice, the lawsuit itself could serve as the required notice. Prior to this decision, Michigan courts had strictly interpreted the notice provisions as meaning that a person was required to serve the notice letter on the governmental agency within 120 days from the time the injury occurred before filing a lawsuit.
This decision signals that the Michigan Supreme Court believes that the notice requirements of the GTLA were being construed too narrowly to protect government agencies from legitimate lawsuits. Moreover, this ruling means that other lawsuits that were dismissed due to procedural technicalities could potentially be revived now.
Making a case against a government employee or entity for liability for personal injuries is hard enough without navigating the notice requirements of the GTLA. If you have a potential claim against a government employee or entity in Michigan, call the experienced attorneys of Grewal Law at (888) 211-5798. You can also fill out an online consultation request form if you prefer.