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143663 - Paletta v Oakland Co Rd Comm

Joseph Paletta and Shelly Paletta,
Glenn H. Oliver
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals
Oakland County Road Commission,
Rick J. Patterson
Supreme Sweeping Services, Inc.,


​Joseph Paletta lost control of his motorcycle while riding on Union Lake Road, a paved road in Oakland County, and crashed. Paletta, who sustained numerous injuries, believed that the crash was caused by gravel on the traveled portion of the paved road surface. A nearby resident who witnessed the accident agreed. According to this witness, he had seen other drivers have problems with gravel on the roadway over the years, and he had complained several times to the Oakland County Road Commission.

Paletta sued the road commission under the highway exception to the governmental tort liability act, claiming that the roadway was defective due to the road commission’s improper maintenance, and that it was unsafe for travel. MCL 691.1402(1) states that “each governmental agency having jurisdiction over a highway shall maintain the highway in reasonable repair so that it is reasonably safe and convenient for public travel.” A governmental agency, including a county road commission, is liable for injuries arising from a road defect only if the agency knew or should have known of the defect, and had a reasonable amount of time to repair it. MCL 691.1403.

After discovery, the road commission moved for summary disposition, arguing that there was no evidence that it had received adequate notice under the highway exception, and that there was no evidence that the gravel on the roadway was a “defect” that created an unreasonably dangerous condition. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding notice and whether the gravel created a hazard to safe travel within the meaning of the highway exception. The court held that Paletta’s testimony, along with that of the nearby resident, was sufficient to create an issue of fact regarding notice. Moreover, held the trial court, an affidavit provided by Paletta’s expert witness, a civil engineer and roadway expert, created a question of fact as to whether the gravel was an unreasonable threat to safe travel.

The road commission appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing that Paletta had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding either issue, and claiming that, as a matter of law, the accumulation of gravel on the road could not constitute a “defect” in the highway. But in an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of summary disposition. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that Paletta’s evidence created genuine issues of material fact regarding notice and the hazard posed by the gravel on the road. The appeals court also rejected to the road commission’s argument that an object – in this case, gravel – was not a “defect” in the actual roadway; the cases the commission cited in support of this argument, involved precipitation, the panel noted, not gravel. The panel said it was declining the road commission’s invitation to “expand existing case law by extending the reasoning of the precipitation cases to other objects and materials lying on the surface of the roadbed.” The road commission appeals.