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State Supreme Court puts student/public safety at risk, rejects Pew V. MSU Appeal. (6/3/15)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 3, 2015

Michigan Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal in Pew V. MSU. On March 5, 2012, Alexandra Pew fell from a defective sixth story dorm window at Michigan State University.

DETROIT, MI – Attorney Ven Johnson of Johnson Law, PLC, will hold a press conference on Friday, June 5, 2015 at his Detroit office (535 Griswold Street, Suite 2632) at 10:00 am, following the recent refusal by the Michigan Supreme Court to hear an appeal in Pew V. MSU.

On March 5, 2012, at approximately 3:00 am, Alexandra (Lexi) Pew, age 18 at the time and a high school senior, was lawfully inside MSU’s Case Hall Dormitory when she unknowingly leaned against a defective window on the sixth floor. The window broke and caused Lexi to fall six stories until she crashed onto ground. Lexi shattered numerous bones and suffered permanent physical and emotional injuries.

In Michigan, under most circumstances like this, the building owner would be held responsible for negligence or failing to safely maintain the building and windows. However, last October the Michigan Court of Appeals decided that MSU was immune from liability and could not be held responsible as a matter of law, meaning no jury trial. The university admitted that Lexi was lawfully inside the dormitory at the time of her fall, but argued that as of 12:00 am Case Hall is closed to the general public. According to the Court of Appeals, the building was no longer a “public” building for purposes of the “public building exception” to governmental immunity.

Michigan’s Governmental Tort Liability Act states in pertinent part states:


MCL § 691.1406 Public buildings; dangerous condition; liability; notice, contents, service.
Sec. 6.
Governmental agencies have an obligation to repair and maintain public buildings under their control when open for use by members of the public. Governmental agencies are liable for bodily injury resulting from a dangerous or defective condition of a public building if the governmental agency had actual or constructive knowledge of the defect, and for a reasonable time after acquiring knowledge, failed to remedy the condition to the action reasonably necessary to protect the public against the condition…

Under Michigan law, a litigant can seek leave to the Michigan Supreme Court to appeal an adverse decision by the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court will review the decision if it finds that the Court of Appeals misinterpreted Michigan law or if the case involves an issue of significant public interest. Sadly, the Supreme Court found neither in Lexi’s case. The decision effectively grants MSU and other public institutions complete immunity from liability for these types of injuries and deprives Lexi of her right to a jury trial.

Johnson stated, “We hoped the Supreme Court would have at least heard our appeal and allowed a jury to decide the merits of our case. Instead, a young girl sustained life-altering injures and, not only is no one held accountable, but because MSU is a “governmental agency” Lexi will never have her case heard by a jury of her peers. Parents assume that public universities properly maintain, inspect and repair defective conditions within the dorms for which they pay to house their children. This decision means when universities fail miserably to provide safe dorms, Michigan citizens have no ability to sue their government or to be compensated for public defects. Simply put, this is abuse of public power, and wrong.”

Johnson fears this misinterpretation of the law will set a precedent, preventing those who have been injured by the negligence of a public institution the legal recourse they deserve under the law. Johnson explains, “In the area of “governmental immunity,” the pendulum has swung way too far to the right, and now places the government above its citizens. Our founding fathers would roll over in their graves.”

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