The Michigan Court of Appeals has thrown out another ruling by the Grand Traverse 13th Circuit Court. The case by a grieving family against the Northwest Michigan Fair is being sent back to the 13th Circuit Court for a new trial. The family tragically lost their young son after he was hit by a car while riding his bike at the fair.
At issue was the court’s instructions to the jury about considering the behavior of all of the parties involved. The 13th Circuit Court judge instructed the jury not to take into account the fact that the victim’s father allowed him to ride alone on an access road where there were cars. Of course, the fair would argue that the road was dangerous and that the victim’s father should have known better. If the jury agreed, the impact on the case could be that the financial verdict in the case is reduced and that the victim’s family can’t recover for non-economic damages like distress and pain and suffering.
The relevant law is Michigan Law 600.2959. The legal theory is called comparative fault or comparative negligence. The theory is that if you do something to contribute to the accident, your damages are reduced to the extent that the accident is your fault. It’s up to the jury to determine whether the plaintiff contributed to the accident and the extent to which they’re to blame. It’s a straight percentage deduction from the jury’s award. — So if the jury otherwise would have ordered $1 million and they decide that the plaintiff is 40 percent to blame, the victim receives 60 percent or $600,000 instead of the $1 million in total damages in the case.
So it begs the question — the law is pretty clear on the issue of comparative negligence. Did the judge fail to follow the law on purpose? Or did they make an unintentional mistake? Are they going to find a way to make the same mistake again, as they’ve done in the Schwander case? What about the victim’s family that’s now forced to relive this all over again? Wouldn’t it have been better to have applied the law correctly in the first place and allowed the family to grieve rather than suffer the emotional turmoil of a second trial?