Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 336802; Unpublished
Judges Gleicher, Boonstra, and Tukel; per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
In this unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s denial of summary disposition for Defendant Anastasio Guerra (“Guerra”) regarding the issue of duty and breach in a negligence action. The Court upheld the denial of summary disposition because it found that there was a mutual bailment between Guerra and Plaintiff Gina Mandjano (“Mandujano”) and there was a question of fact regarding Guerra’s breach, when she did not warn Mandjano of a potential power steering issue.
Mandujano explained that she used Guerra’s truck on the condition of Guerra providing lunch to her. Mandjano drove to the grocery store in Guerra’s truck, bought groceries, and then left. While Guerra was leaving the store, the truck’s power steering failed and Mandujano’s fingers and wrist got caught in the spokes of the steering wheel. Manadjano was severely injured. Prior to the accident, Guerra was aware of the power steering issue and had attempted to fix the issue by adding power steering fluid. Guerra told Manadjano about the power steering issue, but he did not believe it was dangerous. Manadjano brought an action for negligence against Guerra. At trial, Guerra moved for summary disposition arguing that there was not a genuine issue of material fact because she did not owe Guerra a duty and she did not breach her duty (if he did in fact owe Guerra a duty). The trial court disagreed with Guerra and denied the motion for summary disposition arguing that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding duty and breach. Guerra appealed.
The Court of Appeals upheld the denial of summary disposition finding that, in a light most favorable to Mandjuano, there was a genuine issue of material fact. First, the Court reviewed the issue of duty. Guerra admitted on appeal that his permission to Manadjano to use the vehicle was conditioned on the promise that Mandjano would make him lunch. However, Guerra argued that regardless of this condition, the Guerra’s grant of permission created a gratuitous bailment, and not a mutual bailment. A gratuitous bailment is one where the bailor, lends the article to the bailee without charge. A mutual bailment is one where the bailment is for the benefit of both parties. Moreover, any benefit will suffice, regardless of value. Here, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Guerra, there was a question of fact if Guerra’s bailment was a mutual bailment. Guerra loaned his vehicle out to Mandjano with the expectation that Mandjano would make him lunch. Even though the return promise was of little value, lunch, it did not matter. There was a mutual benefit to both sides and Guerra was subject to the more exacting standard under a mutual bailment.
“With the evidence presented, a reasonable jury could have concluded that the bailment was a mutually beneficial one because defendant agreed to loan his vehicle to plaintiff in exchange for her preparing him lunch. The fact that the lunch had very little monetary value is of no consequence.”
There was a genuine issue of material fact regarding Mandjano’s breach of duty. A gratuitous bailment requires the bailor to “inform the bailee only of those defects of which the bailor is aware and which might make the use of the bailed property perilous.” For a mutual bailment the bailor must “must make a reasonable inspection of the bailed property, warn the bailee of any defects in the property about which the bailor knows, or should know, and otherwise ascertain that the property is safe for its intended use.” Both standards require the “defendant fulfilled his duty to warn plaintiff of any known defects or dangers.” The Court of Appeals found a genuine issue of material fact in this common element. The Court explained that Guerra had failed to warn Mandjano that the power steering fluid could leak out, and the steering wheel might seize. Guerra did add power steering fluid to the vehicle, but the Court found that a trier of fact could find this to be simply curing a symptom of the underlying defect, and there was still an obligation to warn Mandjano of the defect.
“Defendant admitted that he knew that having low power steering liquid in a vehicle could pose a “problem” or safety risk. Accordingly, one could reasonably find that defendant, with full knowledge that there was an underlying problem or defect, should have warned plaintiff of that problem or defect. Indeed, if it would have been reasonable for defendant to monitor the power steering fluid situation and “top off” as needed, then a jury could also conclude that it would have been reasonable for anyone to whom he entrusted the car, such as plaintiff, to do so as well.”
Thus, the Court upheld the trial court’s denial of summary disposition finding a genuine issue of material fact regarding duty and breach.