Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 28, 2012

Michigan in Brief: 12/28/2012


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Slip-and-fall cases tough in courts

DETROIT — Francisco Garces stopped at a grocery store in western Michigan but left with injuries after falling in the icy parking lot. When he sued, he didn't get sympathy from the state appeals court: The judges said he could have shopped elsewhere.

Slip-and-fall lawsuits, once a staple for injury attorneys, have become extremely difficult in Michigan courts, especially after another strict standard was set last summer by the state Supreme Court. Feet flying in the air because of water, ice or snow? Case dismissed — unless someone absolutely can't avoid the hazard.

Lawyers acknowledge that not every lawsuit is going to be a winner when someone seeks money for lost wages or medical bills. But the decision should be left to a jury at trial, they say, not a judge or a higher court.

"I have to turn cases down every single day" because of the tougher threshold, said lawyer Mark Bernstein, whose family's Detroit-area firm is widely known because of its "1-800-CALL-SAM" TV ads. "These aren't trespassers who got hurt or somebody who climbed over a fence. When you invite a person onto your property, you owe them a responsibility that your property is safe."

He said slip-and-fall cases tied to weather now represent just 2 percent of the firm's work, compared to 20 percent in the 1990s.

The number of slip-and-fall cases is hard to come by; Michigan court statistics don't break down lawsuits that way. But Nelson Miller, who teaches tort law at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, said there has been a significant decline, based on his expertise in the field and conversations with lawyers.

I-96 shooting suspect arraigned by video

HOWELL — A man suspected in a shooting spree that targeted motorists along the Interstate 96 corridor in four southeast Michigan counties has pleaded not guilty to fresh charges, including terrorism.

Forty-three-year-old Raulie Casteel appeared on a video link during a brief arraignment hearing Thursday afternoon in Livingston County's 53rd District Court in Howell.

The Wixom man waived his right to a hearing within 14 days on whether there's enough evidence to try him. He's jailed on a $2 million bond while awaiting a mental competency examination.

The charges filed last week came after Attorney General Bill Schuette took over local cases. Casteel faces separate charges in Oakland County.

Defense attorney Charles Groh says the fresh charges are nothing new and are based on allegations already made by authorities in Livingston County.

First female House member from U.P. dies

WALLACE — The son of ex-state Rep. Judy Nerat says that the first elected female House member from the Upper Peninsula has died of cancer.

Scott Nerat said Thursday that his 64-year-old mother died Sunday. The Wallace resident was elected in 2008 but lost a re-election bid in 2010.

Nerat owned a beauty salon and first served for 10 years on the Menominee County Road Commission.

Incoming House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel called her "a pioneer" and said in a statement that she was a "hard-working and dedicated advocate" for her constituents.

Scott Nerat said his mother was proud to be the first female representative from the Upper Peninsula "but never bragged about it." He said she "enjoyed trying to a make a difference." Her funeral is Saturday.