Programs & Services

Legal Defense Fund Top 25: Case 5

Governmental immunity/liability

Robinson v City of Detroit

462 Mich 439 (2000)

Issue: Governmental immunity – motor vehicle exception – police pursuit

In two separate cases, voluntary passengers in vehicles pursued by Detroit police officers were injured or died when the vehicles were involved in accidents. The passengers sued the officers and the city claiming that the police negligently pursued the vehicles. In these cases, the police cars did not hit the fleeing car or physically cause another vehicle or object to hit the vehicle that was being chased or physically force the vehicle off the road or into another vehicle or object.

Why did the LDF get involved?
At issue was a line of cases (Fiser and Ewing/Rogers) in which a police pursuit was considered a negligent use of a motor vehicle under the motor vehicle exception to the Michigan Governmental Tort Liability Act. The motor vehicle exception states that a governmental agency is liable for injury and damage resulting from the negligent operation of its vehicle. Also at issue was whether the phrase “resulting from” should be construed as meaning a direct or immediate connection between the negligent operation of the vehicle and the injury.

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 held that police owe a duty to innocent passengers but owe no duty to passengers who are themselves wrongdoers whether or not they help bring about the pursuit or encourage flight. The Court also held that, under the facts of these cases, the city was not liable under a narrow reading of the motor vehicle exception on the basis that the injuries did not result from the operation of the police vehicles.

The Court further held that the decision to pursue does not constitute the negligent operation of a motor vehicle. The court overruled two previous decisions, Fiser v Ann Arbor and Rogers v Detroit (Ewing v Detroit).

Finally, the Court held that the individual officers were immune from liability because their actions were not “the proximate cause” of the injuries, i.e., the most immediate, efficient, and direct cause preceding an injury, overruling Dedes v Asch.

Who prepared the amicus brief?
Rosalind Rochkind
(Garan, Lucow, Miller & Seward, P.C.)

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