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139996, 139997 - Horvath v Johnson

Ernest Horvath,
 
John C. Cardello
 
Plaintiff-Appellee,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
 
 
(Wayne – Moore, W.)
 
Don Johnson and Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, d/b/a SMART,
 
Hal O. Carroll
 
Defendant-Appellants.
 

Summary

​On November 15, 2006, Ernest Horvath boarded a bus operated by Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation and driven by Don Johnson. As Horvath stepped down from the bus, which had come to a complete stop, the bus door closed on his left foot, and he fell to the pavement. Johnson opened the door and apologized; he later completed an accident report.

Horvath filed a claim for no-fault benefits on November 22, 2006, with SMART’s third-party claims administrator. On May 17, 2007, Horvath sued SMART and Johnson for negligence. The defendants moved for summary disposition, asking the court to dismiss Horvath’s claims; Horvath had failed to give timely notice of his negligence claim as required by § 419 of the Metropolitan Transportation Authorities Act of 1967, MCL 124.419, the defendants maintained. MCL 124.419 states “[t]hat written notice of any claim based upon injury to persons or property shall be served upon the authority no later than 60 days from the occurrence through which such injury is sustained . . . .” The trial court denied the motion, ruling that the notice of Horvath’s no-fault claim was sufficient notice of the tort claim because the average person would not distinguish between the two.

The defendants moved for summary disposition a second time. They argued that Horvath’s claim was barred by governmental immunity and did not fall within the motor vehicle exception because the bus was not moving at the time of his injury. The trial court denied this motion also, ruling that the act of exiting from a bus falls within the exception for operation of a motor vehicle. The defendants also argued that Horvath’s claim against Johnson should be dismissed because Horvath had not presented any evidence that Johnson was grossly negligent, as Horvath is required to do to avoid governmental immunity. The court also denied this motion, concluding that there was a material dispute of fact regarding whether Johnson was grossly negligent in closing the door before Horvath had completely exited the bus.

The defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s rulings in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The appeals court concluded that the plain language of MCL 124.419 only requires written notice of a claim and does not differentiate between types of claims. Because the no-fault claim provided specific information regarding Horvath’s accident, it was adequate to satisfy the statutory requirement. The Court of Appeals also concluded that the bus was in operation at the time Horvath exited, so the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity did apply. Finally, based on inferences from the bus driver’s testimony, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the driver was grossly negligent. The defendants appeal.