Attorney Wins Building Defect Case for Health Department

Gregory Grant, Associate Attorney in our Traverse City office, recently successfully defended a Northern Michigan Health Department in a building defect claim.  

In this case, the female plaintiff returned to her place of employment at a space leased by her employer in a building owned and operated by the Health Department.  When the plaintiff arrived at her office, the building was closed as it was after 5 p.m.  She used her key to get in and worked for about an hour.  Then, as she exited the building to go home, she slipped on ice that had pooled on the sidewalk underneath the overhang.  The ice resulted due to water leaking from the gutter caused by a breakdown of a gutter sealant.  The plaintiff sustained serious injuries.   

The plaintiff subsequently sued the Health Department and asserted a claim under the public building exception to governmental immunity arguing that the leaking gutter constituted a building defect.  Mr. Grant moved for dismissal of the case arguing that the Health Department was entitled to governmental immunity and that the plaintiff could not satisfy the required elements of the public building exception.

To prove the applicability of the public building exception, the plaintiff was required to demonstrate that the public building at issue was “open for use by members of the public.”  Mr. Grant argued that, in determining whether a public building is open for use by the public, it was necessary to consider the nature of the building, the building’s use, and any limiting criteria on the public’s right to access.  Mr. Grant was able to prove through discovery that the building was not open to the public at the time of the plaintiff’s fall, that the main entrance was locked before she arrived, and that the plaintiff was only able to enter the building with her key.  

As a consequence, Mr. Grant argued that the building was not “open for use by members of the public” at the time of the plaintiff’s fall.  The court agreed and granted the Health Department’s motion for summary disposition and dismissed the case with prejudice.

 

Gregory Grant, an attorney in our Livonia office, concentrates his practice on municipal law, labor and employment law, general liability defense and prevention, and premises liability.  He can be reached at (231) 922-1888 or ggrant@cmda-law.com.

Attorney Obtains Dismissal for Community College Client

Ethan Vinson, Partner in our Livonia office, recently obtained dismissal in favor of his community college client.  In this case, the plaintiff, a nursing student at the community college, filed state and federal disability discrimination claims against the community college.

The plaintiff left the nursing program because she would frequently become ill from exposure to latex products.  She alleged that the community college violated the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) by failing to accommodate her allergy.

Mr. Vinson argued that the plaintiff’s ADA claim should be dismissed because her latex allergy is not a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  He explained, “Under the ADA, ‘disability’ is defined as a ‘physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities’ of an individual.”  Accordingly, in order to conclude that a person is disabled, a court must find:

  • there is physical impairment,
  • the physical impairment affects a major life activity identified by the plaintiff, and
  • the physical impairment substantially limits that life activity.

Mr. Vinson recognized that the plaintiff’s allergy is a physical impairment and that “learning” is the pertinent major life activity, consequently the plaintiff satisfied two of the three components required to establish her disability.  However, the third component of whether the plaintiff’s latex allergy substantially limits her ability to learn, was not established.

In their ruling, the Court was not persuaded by the plaintiff’s arguments that her allergy substantially limits her ability to learn.  To constitute a disability under the ADA, the plaintiff’s physical impairment must limit learning in general.  “Properly understood then, learning is a major life function, but learning to be a nurse is not” the Court ruled.

The Court further explained, “While it may be true that the plaintiff’s latex allergy hindered her ability to study nursing, there is no evidence- by way of allegation or otherwise- that the plaintiff’s allergy prevented her from successfully completing a course of study in mathematics, teaching, social work, or any other field where direct exposure to latex would be a non-issue.”  In fact, the plaintiff earned two other degrees.

The Court agreed with Mr. Vinson’s arguments, granted the motion for summary disposition and dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit.

Ethan Vinson, a partner in our Livonia office, concentrates his practice on municipal law, labor and employment law, insurance law, and law enforcement defense.  He can be reached at (734) 261-2400 or evinson@cmda-law.com.