The Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled that a negligence claim against a public school district may proceed. In Glezman v Traverse City Area Pub Sch (Case No. 344477), an unpublished opinion, the plaintiff was injured at an athletic facility at Traverse City West High School when her thumb was crushed between two entrance doors. The school district argued it was protected from suit through governmental immunity.
Generally, governmental agencies are immune from tort liability through the Government Tort Liability Act. However, there are a number of exceptions to this immunity; here, the plaintiffs argued that the “public‑building exception” applied. The exception provides that governmental agencies are obligated to “repair and maintain” public buildings under their control when the buildings are open for use by the general public. Bodily injury or property damage that results from a dangerous or defective condition of a public building may incur liability if the governmental agency has “actual or constructive knowledge” and fails to remedy the problem, or at least take reasonably necessary action, to protect the public against the condition. Notably, the exception requires a failure to repair and maintain – a design defect does not trigger the exception.
In this case, the school district had installed doors, one of which routinely failed under heavy winds. To remedy the situation, the school district reversed the direction that one of the doors opened, but this presented a situation in which the reversed door could collide with an adjacent door. While the school district ordered safety mechanisms that would prevent the collision, it moved forward with installation of the reversed door before the mechanisms arrived. Thus, the court rejected the school district’s argument that the plaintiff was injured because of a design defect, as the injury would not have occurred if the design agreed upon – one which provided that the safety mechanisms would be installed – had actually been implemented. Consequently, the court held that the case involved the repair and maintenance of the door, and the legal action could move forward.
Lusk Albertson recommends review of this opinion because of its careful analysis of the public‑building exception to governmental immunity