Mich. appeals court affirms ruling in hazardous intersection case

Jessica M. Karmasek Jun. 5, 2013, 3:00pm

LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) -- The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a more than $200,000 judgment against a shopping plaza owner in a ruling Tuesday.

On appeal, Gratiot Place LLC, which owns and operates a shopping plaza with areas for parking and an access easement that grants the public the right to use the plaza's roadways, argued that, for various reasons, the lawsuit against it should never have gone to a jury.

It also argued that, even if the Saginaw Circuit Court properly submitted the case to the jury, the jury's verdict was tainted and it is entitled to a new trial.

A three-judge panel of the court, in its unpublished, per curiam opinion, concluded there was no error warranting relief from the jury's verdict.

The jury found that Gratiot Place's creation and maintenance of a hazardous intersection proximately caused 60 percent of plaintiffs Heather and Tad Veremis' injuries -- the result of a car accident at the intersection in December 2005.

The jury awarded the Veremises $386,000 in present damages and $114,000 in future economic damages. The total included $36,000 for economic damages, $300,000 for Heather Veremis' noneconomic damages and $50,000 for Tad Veremis' derivative claims.

The trial court reduced the future damages award to a present value of $75,982.09. And, after applying setoffs, it entered a judgment against Gratiot Place for $223,024.36.

Gratiot Place, in its appeal, argued, among other things, that the Veremises failed to establish their public nuisance claim as a matter of law.

Specifically, it contends that there was no evidence from which a jury could find that the intersection unreasonably interfered with a common right enjoyed by the general public.

"Here, the undisputed evidence showed that Gratiot Place or its agents created the intersection, were responsible for the failure to place traffic controls on the intersection, and were responsible for the obstructions at issue or owned or controlled the land on which these features existed," the appeals court wrote in its nine-page opinion. "Although an unmarked intersection is not a nuisance per se, when the fact that the intersection is unmarked is coupled with evidence that various structures significantly obstruct drivers' views, a jury could reasonably find that the intersection was a nuisance in fact."

The court explained that the testimony established that the intersection was unmarked and, as a result, drivers did not know who had the right-of-way.

Moreover, the evidence showed that, because of the obstructions at the intersection, drivers might not realize that the opposing traffic was not subject to a traffic control device and, for that reason, might not stop, the court noted.

"For those drivers that realized the danger, in order to ensure that there was no oncoming traffic, a driver would have to creep out into the intersection to look both ways. Even then, the driver still risked being hit by a driver who did not realize that the intersection was completely unmarked," it wrote, adding that there also was evidence that several accidents and near-accidents had occurred there.

"Given this evidence, the trial court did not err by submitting the matter to the jury."

The appeals court said the circuit court also did not err when it denied Gratiot Place's motion for a new trial.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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