County wins appeal over motorcycle wreck

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- The Michigan Supreme Court has further strengthened the defense of public agencies blamed for bad roads, saying a motorcyclist can't sue over loose gravel that led to a bone-crushing crash in Oakland County.

Joseph Paletta said he lost control on gravel that had been scraped from the shoulder and onto Union Lake Road in White Lake Township. Two courts said the Oakland County Road Commission could be sued over the rider's injuries because it was a commission crew that had deposited the debris on the road.

But the Supreme Court, in a 4-3 order last week, said loose gravel doesn't trigger the agency's duty to keep a highway in "reasonable repair" under Michigan law. Republican justices who control the court were in the majority.

Paletta, now 52, suffered a broken leg in 2006 as well as back and shoulder injuries that required surgery.

"He continues to struggle," attorney Glenn Oliver said Monday. "He's scheduled to have his second back surgery. His motorcycle insurance didn't include wage loss."

The Supreme Court heard arguments April 5 on whether to take a full appeal from the road commission.

In a brief order, it decided to close the case by overturning an appeals court ruling and dismissing the agency from the lawsuit.

"We just wanted a chance to present it to a jury," Oliver said. "At least give us a shot, right? I don't think that's asking too much."

It is very difficult to sue public agencies over road conditions in Michigan since the Supreme Court in 2000 said a defect must be within the roadbed. In Paletta's case, the court said accumulated gravel doesn't count.

Published: Wed, Apr 18, 2012