Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 30, 2013

City dismissed from lawsuits

TRAVERSE CITY — A judge dismissed the city of Traverse City and one of its employees from multi-million dollar lawsuits over a teen's electrocution and drowning in Clinch Marina.

But the case will continue against the city's marina manager.

City officials called 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power's ruling "good news." Power this week determined the city's marina operation was a governmental function and so the city retained governmental immunity.

Area attorneys said the ruling should not hurt the lawsuit filed by Michael Knudsen's family after his death in 2011. An electrical leak from broken city cables and a faulty ground system killed Knudsen, 18, as he swam from a floating dock.

"There is very little impact to the case overall; in fact, it makes the case easier to prove because it is very difficult to sue the city proper," said local personal injury attorney Blake Ringsmuth, who is not involved in the case. "The manager is the city's representative; the city would be responsible for his actions. As a practical matter they are still on the hook," he said.

Downstate attorney Geoffrey Fieger's office represents the Knudsen's family and Zachary Kott-Millard, who alleged he was shocked when he jumped into the water to save Knudsen. Feiger's office did not return calls for comment.

City attorney Gretchen Olsen wrote in an email to the city that Power, taking the evidence in light most favorable to the plaintiffs, still found no direct evidence that marina Manager Barry Smith knew of any prior electrical problems. But Power concluded that someone who worked at the marina must have been aware of the problem and therefore a jury could conclude Smith was aware and failed to do anything about it.

Olsen said she disagreed with Power's decision not to dismiss Smith.

"I don't think there is enough evidence there," she said. "I think he should have dismissed all of the city defendants."

They city might appeal Power's decision, Olsen said.

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