Withers v. City of Detroit – Procedural Problems Plague Injury Case

A woman who was seriously injured after falling into an uncovered manhole won’t be able to sue the city – not because she didn’t have a strong case, but because the court noted she failed to properly notify the government of her claim. manhole1

In Withers v. City of Detroit, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that would have allowed the case to proceed.

According to court records, the question was whether plaintiff had properly notified the city of the potential for a tort claim after she fell into the hole. Plaintiff sent her notice through regular mail (when it should have been certified) to the city’s law department (when it should have gone to the city mayor, clerk or city attorney).

But this did not comply with state statutes in Michigan, which require notice of any injury sustained by reason of a defective highway must be served on an individual – personally or by certified mail, with return service requested – who may be lawfully served with civil processes on behalf of the agency.

Plaintiff didn’t do this. Thus, the appeals court ruled, her claim could not be allowed to proceed.

The letter she had sent was in October 2013. The letter indicated she suffered bodily injury after falling into an uncovered manhole, shortly before 6 a.m. She indicated she was driving a bus for Safeway Transportation, a contractor of the city’s school system. An accident occurred nearby, and plaintiff stepped out to survey it. As she stepped out of the bus, she fell into a manhole that was not covered. As a result, she suffered a serious injury that included five fractures and was unable to work for months.

Soon after, plaintiff mailed her Medicare forms to the office, describing the injuries in more detail.

About four months later, she filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city, alleging the local government negligently failed in its duty to cover that manhole.

Defendant responded with a motion for summary judgment, arguing the notice plaintiff gave was insufficient and failed to conform to state statute regarding government notice of claims. First, the city noted it hadn’t properly received notice of the lawsuit (in the wrong manner to the wrong people), which had to happen before the lawsuit was filed. Further, plaintiff never in her complaint specifically identified the manhole covers or detailed her injuries in depth.

By that time, it would have been too late for plaintiff to refile that notice, as it had to be done within 120 days of the time of injury.

Florida courts have similar rules about proper notice with regard to government claims. F.S. 768.28 details Florida’s waiver of sovereign immunity in tort actions. No lawsuit can be filed until the person first files a notice of claim with the appropriate agency. Further, while personal injury claims are normally four years, claims against the government have to be filed within three years. The lawsuit can only be filed after the appropriate government agency has been notified, given 180 days to conduct a full investigation of the claim and issues a denial of the claim.

Failure to follow this strict procedural requirements can result in dismissal of the claim, as the Withers case shows.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Withers v. City of Detroit, Feb. 18, 2016, Michigan Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Parents: Car Death of Teen Ejected From Fair Preventable, Feb. 23, 2016, Miami Personal Injury Attorney Blog

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