The Michigan State Court of Appeals recently opined on a local drunken road rage incident that resulted in a vehicle rollover and personal injury.
In a July 24 written opinion by court of appeals justices, a lawsuit between plaintiffs Joseph and Julie Beattie versus defendant entities Cincinnati Insurance Company, BC Lanes, and James Joseph Anderson was partially affirmed, partially reversed, and remand for further proceedings.
This suit stems from a motor vehicle accident caused by defendant James Anderson after he had been furnished alcohol by defendant BC Lanes, court documents state.
The Beattie plaintiffs appealed a lower court’s order granting BC Lanes a summary disposition citing “no genuine issue of material fact” on the grounds that Julie did not suffer a “serious impairment of body function” as defined by MCL 500.3135(5).
On the basis of that ruling, the trial court also granted defendants Anderson summary disposition of plaintiffs’ automobile negligence claim and defendant Cincinnati Insurance Company summary disposition of plaintiffs’ claims for underinsured and uninsured motorist benefits.
On Feb. 6, 2015, at BC Lanes, plaintiffs met a group of friends to bowl and were subsequently harassed by defendant James Anderson.
“[Anderson] was upset about his divorce. According to the one of the witnesses, Anderson then ‘clung’ to plaintiffs’ group. Witnesses described Anderson as being ‘off’ and having ‘a lost look in his eye.’ Several of the women in the group later reported that Anderson’s behavior made them uncomfortable,” it states in court documents. “For instance, while two of the women were using the restroom, Anderson opened the door and called out their names.”
A bartender who served Anderson that night testified that he confronted Anderson about the restroom incident and that Anderson sarcastically denied it but agreed to leave the group alone. The bartender continued to serve Anderson, although in time felt obliged to encourage Anderson to “calm down” because he noticed that Anderson was “kind of getting a look in his face.”
According to court records, “As the group was leaving the bowling alley, Julie noticed Anderson ‘peering with one eye around the corner of a wall’ at ‘our group.’ Joseph asked Anderson, ‘Are you okay?’ but, according to Joseph, Anderson ‘did not respond, did not change his facial appearance, and just simply took a couple steps backwards.’ Anderson followed the group out the door and made comments suggesting that he intended to follow them to a party, to which Julie responded, ‘I don’t think so.’ When asked for help in dealing with Anderson, (bartender) told him, ‘you go your way so these guy[s] can go their way.’”
They further state, “Anderson said he was going home and went to his vehicle. When plaintiffs left the bowling alley in their Jeep, Joseph noticed that Anderson passed a vehicle ‘to get behind us.’ Anderson then began striking plaintiffs’ Jeep with his own vehicle, eventually pushing the Jeep to the side of the road and causing it to hit a snow bank and roll onto its side. Julie was injured when her hand was trapped between the roll bar and the top of the Jeep.”
The claim of impairment underlying this case primarily pertains to Julie’s “little finger” of her right hand.
Following the accident, Julie stopped working as a cosmetologist, citing her injury.
At the request of Cincinnati Insurance—plaintiffs’ no-fault insurance carrier—Julie was examined by Dr. David Frye in October 2015. Dr. Frye concluded that Julie suffered from “[p]ost-traumatic right ring and fifth finger PIP joint arthrofibrosis,” which he opined was causally related to the accident. However, Dr. Frye also opined that Julie could return to work without restriction.
Dr. Paul Drouillard also evaluated Julie and opined that she was engaging in “symptom magnification” by acting “as if her right little finger will not bend when, in fact, it will.”
Dr. Drouillard opined that it was unnecessary for Julie to be wearing “an elastic sleeve” on her finger and that she should be using her finger normally.
At her deposition Julie stated, “I cannot fully bend my finger all the way. It does not bend at my knuckle. I cannot make a fist.”
Julie also stated that she experienced intermittent pain in her little finger depending on what she was doing. She maintained that she could not work as a cosmetologist because she could not grip necessary styling tools.
Plaintiffs commenced this action on Feb. 24, 2016. In Count I, plaintiffs averred that Anderson negligently operated a motor vehicle. In Counts II and III, plaintiffs sought to recover underinsured and uninsured benefits, respectively, from Cincinnati Insurance.
In Count IV, plaintiffs alleged that BC Lanes violated the Dramshop Act by furnishing alcohol to Anderson while he was visibly intoxicated.
In Count V, plaintiffs alleged that BC Lanes was negligent for failing to protect its patrons.
On appeal, plaintiffs insist that the evidence established that Julie suffered a serious impairment of body function.
“We do not agree that the evidence necessarily compels this conclusion, but, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, we hold that it presents a question of material fact precluding summary disposition,” the appeals justices stated.
Justices added, “Defendants seem to question the severity of Julie’s impairment. As plaintiffs note, however, the objectively manifested impairment analysis focuses on the impairment, not the underlying injury.”
Justices wrote that arguments regarding the severity of Julie’s impairment relate to whether Julie’s general ability to lead a normal life has been affected. On that note, the court also discerned a material factual dispute pertaining to whether Julie’s claimed impairment has affected her general ability to lead her normal life.
Plaintiffs maintain that Julie can no longer work as a cosmetologist.
BC Lanes asserts that none of the cosmetology tasks identified by Julie “require the use of a pinky finger…”
“In sum, when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, this is not a case where the injured person claimed an impairment solely on the basis of subjective complaints that were not observable by others,” the court stated. “To the contrary, Julie’s limited range of motion in her finger was observed by her physicians. Defendants’ arguments concerning the legitimacy, or authenticity, of Julie’s impairment present material questions of fact.”
Next, plaintiffs take issue with the dismissal of their dramshop claim, arguing that there is no question of fact that BC Lanes furnished alcohol to Anderson while he was visibly intoxicated.
Because of the trial court’s ruling on the serious impairment threshold, it did not address this issue.
In light of our decision concerning the claim of a threshold injury, the court declined to decide this issue at this juncture.
However, on remand, the appeals court said the parties may pursue the matter before the trial court as appropriate.
Plaintiffs additionally argued that the trial court erred in granting defendant BC Lanes summary disposition with respect to their negligence claim.
Justices wrote that, although the trial court ultimately granted BC Lanes summary disposition of all of plaintiffs’ claims, the court did not specifically explain the basis for doing so in connection with the negligence claim.
However, because the issue presents a question of law, and the record presents all the facts necessary for its resolution, appellate review is not precluded. In doing so, the appeals court concluded that the trial court correctly dismissed plaintiffs’ negligence claim.
In this case, the justices agreed with BC Lanes that one could not reasonably conclude from the evidence offered that Anderson would “aggressively run Plaintiffs off the road after leaving the bowling center.”
Justices stated BC Lanes did not breach the duty to protect its patrons from foreseeable crimes.
The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s decision to summarily dispose of plaintiffs’ negligence claim.