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Holt v Detroit Dep’t of Transp, et al (COA – UNP 8/18/2022; RB #4466)   

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #357329; Unpublished 
Judges Sawyer, Shapiro, and Redford; Per Curiam 
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING: 
Applicability of Comparative Fault to Noneconomic Loss Claims [§3135(2)]

TOPICAL INDEXING: 
Negligence-Duty
Motor-Vehicle Exception to Governmental Tort Liability Act


SUMMARY: 
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff David Holt’s automobile negligence action against Defendants Detroit Department of Transportation (“DDOT”), Anthony Reed, and Louise Bechard.  The Court of Appeals held that a question of fact existed as to the comparative negligence between Reed, a DDOT bus driver, and Bechard, Holt’s husband, in causing the subject motor vehicle collision, in which Holt was injured while traveling as a passenger in a vehicle driven by Bechard.

David Holt was traveling as a passenger in a vehicle driven his wife, Louise Bechard, eastbound on Fort Street in Detroit.  Bechard pulled to the far-right traffic lane on Fort Street so that Holt could reach out the window and place mail in a mailbox located on the right curb adjacent to the roadway.  After Holt placed his mail in the mailbox, the traffic light just ahead of them at the intersection of Fort Street and Trumbull Street turn from red to green, and without yielding to the traffic in the oncoming westbound lanes of Fort Street, whose light had also just turned from red to green, Bechard immediately attempted to turn left from the far-right lane she was in—not from the left-turn lane.  At the same time, Anthony Reed was driving a DDOT bus westbound on Fort Street, approaching the same intersection.  Rather than slow down behind the vehicles which had been stopped in both lanes of westbound Fort Street at the aforementioned red light, Reed changed into the right parking lane in an attempt to overtake those vehicles on the right.  As a result, his vehicle entered the intersection at the same time as Bechard, and the two vehicles collided.  Holt was injured in the crash and subsequently filed an auto negligence action against Bechard, DDOT, and Reed, although in his deposition, he testified that he did not believe his wife did anything wrong to cause the collision.  Based on this testimony, alone, Bechard filed a motion for summary disposition, which the trial court granted.  DDOT and Reed also filed motions for summary disposition, arguing that there was no question of fact that Reed was not negligent in causing the accident and, alternatively, that even if Reed was negligent in causing the collision, no reasonable juror could conclude that he was more than fifty percent at-fault for the collision.  The trial court agreed and also granted summary disposition in their favor.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order as to Bechard, holding that a question of fact clearly existed as to whether she was negligent.  Holt’s testimony to the contrary was merely an “opinion,” and the balance of the evidence demonstrated that Bechard violated multiple statutory duties immediately prior to the collision, including that which required her to yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic before turning left at an intersection (MCL 257.650(1)), and that which required her to make her left-turn from the left-turn lane (MCL 257.647(1)(b)).  

“First, plaintiff asserts that Bechard violated MCL 257.647(1)(b) by not moving into the left-turn lane before initiating the left turn from Fort Street to Trumbull . . . 

There is no dispute that the ‘portion of the right half of the roadway nearest the center line’ was the left-turn lane on eastbound Fort Street. However, Bechard testified that she made the turn from ‘the side,’ i.e., the right-curb lane, which would violate the statute . . . 

Moreover, regardless of where Bechard initiated the turn from, there is also evidence that she violated MCL 257.650(1) by failing to allow the westbound traffic on Fort Street to pass through the intersection before she made her turn . . .  

This statute imposed two related duties on Bechard. First, she was required to yield to oncoming traffic that was ‘within the intersection or so close to the intersection as to constitute an immediate hazard.’ Second, she was required to ‘permit vehicles bound straight through in the opposite direction which are waiting a go signal to pass through the intersection before making the turn.’ 

Beginning with the second duty, there is no real dispute that at the time Bechard attempted the turn both eastbound and westbound traffic on Fort Street had a green light. As noted, both plaintiff and Bechard testified that they initially had a red light on eastbound Fort Street before it turned green, and it was not a green arrow. And neither plaintiff nor Bechard are expressly disputing Reed’s testimony that the light for westbound traffic at the Trumbull intersection turned green as he approached. Given this, and the record as a whole, the most reasonable inference is that both the westbound and eastbound lanes on Fort Street were stopped at a red light and then simultaneously had a green light. Accordingly, Bechard had a statutory duty to allow the opposing traffic stopped at the light to pass through the intersection before she attempted the left turn. By all accounts, she did not do this. Further, returning to the first duty outlined in MCL 257.650(1), there is evidence that Bechard failed to yield to a vehicle approaching from the other direction, i.e., the bus, that was ‘so close to the intersection as to constitute an immediate hazard.’  

Notably, Bechard does not address whether she complied with MCL 257.650(1). Instead, she argues that she is entitled to summary disposition because plaintiff testified that she did not do anything wrong. This argument is without merit. Plaintiff’s testimony amounts to an opinion that Bechard did not breach a duty owed to him. However, as a lay witness plaintiff is not qualified to testify about the legal effect of Bechard’s actions. See MRE 701; Swain v Morse, 332 Mich App 510, 531; 957 NW2d 396 (2020) (holding that the plaintiff’s testimony indicating that there was not a conspiracy between the defendants was not dispositive of her conspiracy claim). More important than plaintiff’s opinion that Bechard did not do anything wrong were the facts he testified to supporting the conclusion that she violated multiple statutory duties.” 

The Court of Appeals also reversed the trial court’s summary disposition as to DDOT, holding that a question of fact existed not only as to whether Reed was at-fault for the collision, but also as to whether Reed was more than fifty-percent at fault for the collision.  The Court noted that the evidence demonstrated that Reed attempted to overtake the vehicles ahead of him from the right, in violation of MCL 257.647.  Doing so potentially obstructed Reed’s view of opposing traffic and vice versa, which, per the Court, was precisely why the statute was enacted.

“Applying this passage to the instant case, the accident at issue sufficiently implicates MCL 257.647’s purpose. Passing on the right obstructs the driver’s view of opposing traffic, and vice versa. Here, it can be inferred that when Bechard initiated the left turn she did not see the oncoming bus that was traveling in the outside parking lane to the right of stopped vehicles. And there is a question of fact whether Reed adequately observed Bechard’s vehicle as he approached and traveled through the intersection. Accordingly, MCL 257.647 imposed a duty of care on Reed relevant to this case.” 

The Court also rejected DDOT’s argument that Reed had no duty to anticipate Bechard’s negligent act of turning left without yielding to oncoming traffic.  Reed did have a duty to make ‘continuing observations’ as he entered the intersection, which he perhaps did not do because he was instead “focused on improperly passing traffic on the right, ‘timing’ the green light at the intersection and pulling into his next bus stop.”

“In this case, DDOT emphasizes that Reed looked to his left before entering the intersection and observed Bechard waiting in the left-turn lane. Having no reason to believe that she would fail to yield to oncoming traffic, the argument runs, Reed reasonably turned his attention to the upcoming bus stop. Alternatively, however, it can be inferred from the record evidence that Reed was not making ‘continuing observations,’ id., of the road and upcoming intersection but instead was focused on improperly passing traffic on the right, ‘timing’ the green light at the intersection and pulling into his next bus stop. When viewed in plaintiff’s favor, the evidence creates a question of fact whether Reed exercised reasonable care and caution.” 

Lastly, regarding its finding that a question of fact existed as to comparative negligence, the Court noted that because the evidence suggested that both Bechard and Reed breached their respective statutory duties, the question of comparative negligence should be left for the fact-finder.

“Contrary to DDOT’s argument, we conclude that reasonable minds could differ on whether Bechard was more than fifty percent at fault. As discussed, there is evidence that Bechard breached multiple statutory duties by: (1) initiating her turn from the far-right lane, rather than the left-turn lane, and (2) making a left turn before allowing the opposing traffic to pass through the intersection. However, the evidence also permits a reasonable inference that Bechard observed that the traffic in the opposing travel lanes was stopped when she began her turn and that she failed to see the bus because it was traveling in the parking lane, while illegally passing stopped traffic on the right. Further, when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff as the nonmoving party, it can be inferred that Reed failed to observe Bechard’s vehicle making a left turn across multiple lanes of traffic and make reasonable efforts to avoid the collision. Because there is evidence that both Bechard and Reed breached multiple duties that contributed to the crash, the issue of comparative negligence should be left to the jury.” 


Michigan auto accident attorney Stephen Sinas is the lead editor of the appellate case summaries published on this site regarding the Michigan auto insurance law. To learn more about how Stephen Sinas and how the Sinas Dramis Law Firm can help you if you have been injured in a Michigan auto accident, visit SinasDramis.com.

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