Programs & Services

Legal Defense Fund Top 25: Case 18

Governmental immunity/liability
Ewing v City of Detroit (Rogers v City of Detroit)

457 Mich 125 (1998)

Issue: Governmental immunity – motor vehicle exception – police pursuit

Deborah Ewing was driving in her residential neighborhood in northwest Detroit. Her van was broadsided by a pickup truck traveling at a high rate of speed in an attempt to flee police officers. Ewing was severely injured. The chase took place across major city streets in densely populated residential areas. Ewing sued the city, the police department, and its police officers, pleading negligent operation of a government vehicle and gross negligence on the part of the individual police officers. The circuit court found in favor of all municipal defendants. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed on the issue of whether the city and the department were liable.

Why did the LDF get involved?
At issue was the interpretation and application of the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity—that is, under what circumstances may a local government be liable for injuries or death if a police pursuit is involved. In Fiser v Ann Arbor, the Michigan Supreme Court had held that a high-speed police chase through a residential neighborhood that ended when the fleeing suspect struck and injured the driver of an innocent vehicle could subject the municipality to liability under the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity.

What action did the LDF take?
Filed a co-amicus brief with the Michigan Municipal League Liability and Property Pool with the Michigan Supreme Court

What was the outcome?
The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the decision finding the city liable, following the rationale of the Fiser decision. The Court found that Ewing had plead facts sufficient to have a jury decide whether the city and the department were causes in fact of injuries suffered by Ewing as a result of a collision with the vehicle pursued.

Who prepared the amicus brief?
Mary Massaron Ross (Plunkett & Cooney)
Christine D. Oldani (Plunkett & Cooney)

COMMENT: See Robinson v City of Detroit which overruled the Ewing decision.

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