Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

February 8, 2013

Court: Family can't sue road commission

Teen died while driving to Mesick graduation

COPEMISH (AP) — The family of a teenager who was killed while driving to perform at a high school graduation can't sue a northern Michigan road agency over dust blamed for the fatal crash, the state Supreme Court said Thursday.

The justices, 6-0, overturned a decision by the Michigan appeals court and directed a judge to dismiss the case against the Manistee County Road Commission.

In 2010, Debra Hagerty-Kraemer, 17, was driving to a Mesick High School graduation to perform with the band when she was killed. Her family says she smashed her car into a tree after she was blinded by road dust stirred up by a passing vehicle near Copemish.

The lawsuit alleged that the road commission was negligent in how it maintained Litzen Road.

A series of Supreme Court decisions, however, has made it difficult to sue government agencies over road conditions. In this case, the court again said the road commission is immune.

The justices said a "dust cloud rising from an unpaved road is not a defect" that would trigger the county's liability.

In addition, "an accumulation of gravel, whether natural or otherwise, does not implicate the defendant's duty to maintain the highway in reasonable repair," the court said, referring to a key threshold under Michigan law.

The decision was delivered in a one-page order, not a formal opinion. Nonetheless, it ends the lawsuit.

L. Page Graves, an attorney for Hagerty-Kraemer's family, said he's disappointed the court threw out the case without hearing arguments. He believes the justices wrongly applied legal precedent.

"My client never had a second in open court to debate these legal issues," said Graves, who wants the court to reconsider.

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