No-fault mini-tort limit increased

At-fault drivers face increased liability in small claims court for damages not covered by the other driver’s no-fault insurance policy.

The no-fault act’s so-called mini-tort limit will increase from $500 to $1,000 under PA 158 of 2012, MCL 500. 3135(3)(e), signed into law yesterday by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The law also provides that mini-tort damages cannot be assessed if the damaged vehicle was being operated without the required insurance coverage.

Under MCL 500.3135(4), in a mini-tort action for damages:

(a) Damages shall be assessed on the basis of comparative fault, except that damages shall not be assessed in favor of a party who is more than 50% at fault.

(b) Liability is not a component of residual liability, as prescribed in section 3131, for which maintenance of security is required by this act.

(c) The action shall be commenced, whenever legally possible, in the small claims division of the district court or the municipal court. If the defendant or plaintiff removes the action to a higher court and does not prevail, the judge may assess costs.

(d) A decision of the court is not res judicata in any proceeding to determine any other liability arising from the same circumstances that gave rise to the action.

(e) Damages shall not be assessed if the damaged motor vehicle was being operated at the time of the damage without the security required by section 3101.

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Cooley sues lawyers, bloggers for defamation: Juicy details edition

Last week, the Lansing State Journal reported that The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, in two suits, went on the offensive against lawyers and bloggers who, the school claims, damaged Cooley’s reputation with a series of defamatory posts and statements.

Yesterday’s LSJ revealed some of what has raised Cooley’s hackles: a 6,000-word post on a website called “The Thomas M. Cooley Law School Scam.” An excerpt from the post, as reported by the LSJ:

“I am probably doing YOU THE BIGGEST FAVOR OF YOUR LIFE by raising public awareness and offering you this advice….all free of charge! As a prior student who was fortunate enough to GET OUT OF COOLEY let me lay a SMACKDOWN on this PIECE OF [excrement] TTTT (Third Tier Toilet Trash) school.”

The post, written by “Rockstar05,” took Cooley to task, says the LSJ:

for its low admissions standards, its high attrition rate, the job prospects of its graduates, [and] the fact that Cooley produces its own set of law school rankings which place it in the number two spot, just behind Harvard.

In his the post, reports the LSJ, Rockstar05 wound things up this way:

You want to spend years of your life that you cannot get back, likely get into 150K or more of non-dischargeable debt, for a degree with a ZERO RETURN ON INVESTMENT????!!!! …

LISTEN TO ME, YOU WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE BY ATTENDING THIS SCHOOL.

Rockstar05’s original post has been taken down and replaced with a response to Cooley’s suit. The comments to the original post, however, remain on the blog.

Two anonymous responders to Rockstar 05’s original post are also named in one of Cooley’s suits. According to the LSJ, the responders:

claimed that Cooley was involved in criminal activity related to federal student loans.

[The school] also sued an anonymous poster to The Huffington Post, who repeated the claims of criminality, and, in a separate case, two New York attorneys who appeared to be soliciting clients for a class action suit against the school.

A Cooley press release explains the claims against the Big Apple attorneys:

Cooley contends that the law firm of Kurzon Strauss LLP and two lawyers in that firm, David Anziska and Jesse Strauss, defamed Cooley by falsely claiming on Internet websites, social media, and email that Cooley, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) Michigan educational corporation, has defrauded students by misrepresenting its graduate employment placement rates, average starting salary figures, and student loan default rates. …

“Cooley has consistently and truthfully reported job placement and salary figures in the manner required by the American Bar Association (ABA), our accrediting agency, and by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), a national jobs-reporting clearinghouse,” said Charles Toy, associate dean of Career and Professional Development at Cooley and the immediate past president of the State Bar of Michigan.

Cooley sues lawyers, bloggers for defamation

From this morning’s Lansing State Journal comes word that Cooley Law School has sued two lawyers, a law firm and four anonymous bloggers for defamation.

The school is suing New York lawyers David Anziska and Jesse Strauss for more than $25,000 in damages and a retraction of all defamatory statements posted on the Internet.

The suit, filed in Ingham County Circuit Court, also names the New York law firm that Strauss founded – and where Anziska works – as a co-defendant.

Strauss said he intended to countersue Cooley for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

“This is one of the most ridiculous, absurd lawsuits filed in recent memory,” Strauss said. “This suit is nothing more than a naked attempt at intimidation.”

In a separate suit, the school seeks identical damages from four anonymous bloggers.

James Thelen, Cooley’s associate dean for legal affairs and general counsel, said the school hopes to establish the bloggers’ identities during the lawsuit’s discovery process.

Cooley’s suit charges that:

Anziska and Strauss made defamatory comments online against the school as a way to “troll” for plaintiffs for a “baseless purported class- action lawsuit” against Cooley. The false claims included stating the school inflated salary and employment information of its graduates and that four out of 10 Cooley students are defaulting on loans[.]

Sidewalks and SOL on judiciary committee’s agenda

The House Judiciary Committee is considering HB 4589, which would give municipalities the benefit of the “two-inch rule” for any sidewalk they maintain.

The “two-inch” rule creates a rebuttable inference that a sidewalk is properly maintained if the height difference between two slabs is less than two inches.

The legislation would apply the two-inch rule to sidewalks adjacent to municipal and state highways, in addition to sidewalks adjacent to county highways.

The bill also revises how the term “highway” is defined. Currently, the term means a public highway, road, or street that is open for public travel and includes bridges, sidewalks, crosswalks, trailways, and culverts on the highway and does not include an alley, tree, or utility pole.

The bill would delete the reference to “trailways” and “culverts” and add “an appurtenance” to the list of things that “highway” does not include.

The bill affects MCL 691.1401, MCL 691.1402 and MCL 691.1402a.

The committee will also consider SB 77, which would amend MCL 600.5805 and MCL 600.5839 to make actions against architects, professional engineers, and professional surveyors subject to the two-year statute of limitations on malpractice actions.

The legislation would remove language under which the period of limitations on actions against those professionals and contractors is governed by MCL 600.5839.

SB 77 would legislatively overrule the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Ostroth v. Warren Regency, 474 Mich. 36 (2006). In Ostroth, the MSC ruled that MCL 600.5805(14) unambiguously directs that the period of limitations for actions against architects is provided by MCL 600.5839(1). Moreover, the six-year period of MCL 600.5839(1) operates as both a statute of limitations and a statute of repose.”

Critics of Ostroth say the decision allows too much time in which to sue architects, professional engineers and contractors.

The committee’s hearing on the legislation is scheduled for June 16, 2011, 521 House Office Building, Lansing, at 10:30 a.m.

Bill would let parents sign liability waivers for children

The Michigan House Judiciary Committee will take testimony tomorrow on HB 4970, which would allow a parent or guardian to sign a liability waiver on behalf of a child participating in sports or recreational activities.

The legislation was prompted by a Court of Appeals decision, Woodman v. Kera, LLC. The decision invalidated a liability release signed by a 5-year-old boy’s parent and let a negligence suit go forward against a commercial play area operator after the child broke his leg.

In his lead opinion, Judge Michael Talbot said under the current state of both statutory and common law, the waiver could not stand.

[T]his court is aware of no legislative enactments upholding exculpatory agreements, executed by parents on behalf of their minor children before injury, that waive liability for injuries incurred in either commercial or nonprofit settings. …

[I]n the absence of a clear or specific legislative directive, we can neither judicially assume nor construct exceptions to the common law extending or granting the authority to parents to bind their children to exculpatory agreements. Thus, the designation or imposition of any waiver exceptions is solely within the purview of the Legislature.

Judge Richard Bandstra “reluctantly” concurred with Talbot.

[O]urs is an extremely and increasingly litigious society. Any entity that provides an educational, recreational, or entertainment opportunity to a minor does so at great risk of having to defend an expensive lawsuit, meritorious or not. To avoid some of that, preinjury waivers have become commonplace. If the law does not honor those waivers, the implications appear inevitable: the cost of providing opportunities will rise, some families who would like their children to participate will no longer be able to afford to, and, ultimately, some opportunities will simply become unavailable altogether. …

Because of the impact of today’s decision and the compelling arguments against abrogating preinjury parental waivers, I encourage the Michigan Legislature or Supreme Court to further consider the issue.

Judge Bill Schuette (now off the court and campaigning hard to be the state’s next attorney general) pragmatically noted in his concurrence that important public policy considerations cut both ways.

Certainly, no one in the Michigan judiciary desires to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to wayward businesses, dishonorable nonprofit organizations, or volunteer groups that might place a child in a dangerous situation, notwithstanding a parent’s executing a release and waiving liability for resulting injury. Equally significant is the fact that an immense amount of youth activities — church groups, Boy Scouts, sports camps of all kinds, orchestra and theatrical events, and countless school functions — run and operate on release and waiver-of-liability forms for minor children. …

[T]he Michigan Legislature will have to determine whether a statutory exception to the common-law rule for preinjury waivers should be adopted, and whether there should be any differentiation between for-profit and nonprofit groups as some states have seen fit to do.

The Legislature heeded the call with the introduction of HB 4970 last year. A House Fiscal Agency analysis predicts “an indeterminate, but likely positive, fiscal impact on the judicial branch. Any fiscal impact would depend on the amount of litigation avoided due to the waiver of claims of liability.”

In the meantime, the Michigan Supreme Court granted leave in Woodman and heard oral arguments in October. A decision is due by the end of July.

Financial manager, Detroit School Board continue court clash

Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager for the Detroit Public Schools, won a court victory Friday against the school board in the battle over control of the district operations, reports The Lansing State Journal.

According to The LSJ:

Wayne County Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Wendy Baxter ruled Friday that the school board has to rescind its decision to hire a treasurer because Bobb has authority over the finances.

Baxter granted Bobb’s request for an injunction to bar the board from moving forward with plans to appoint a treasurer. …

While Bobb won Friday’s battle, the court war continues as the board is still suing him, saying he has overstepped his legal authority by making academic decisions and that he has violated state law by not consulting the board on financial plans.

Bobb is countersuing, saying the board usurped his hiring authority by voting to make the acting superintendent permanent.

Bobb may have the upper hand.

The LSJ reports that he “has eliminated the board’s budget, saying he will not provide funding for the board to sue him.”

Down and out in Motown: Gambler’s suit against casino comes up snake eyes

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Sapala has dealt a busted straight to a Macomb County gambler trying to recoup his losses with a lawsuit against MotorCity Casino.

“This morning, … Sapala denied a motion by [Italo] Parise to order the Detroit casino to repay him $673,854 in gambling losses,” reports The Detroit News.

Sapala said the 1961 law cited by Parise’s lawyer allows people to collect their gambling losses only in cases of illegal gambling.

“This is a very easy, simple and straightforward decision: It is the public policy of the state — whether you agree with it or not — that casino gambling is legal,” Sapala told attorney Frank Cusumano Jr. in court Friday.

Attorney Deborah Brower, who represents the casino, is asking the judge to impose sanctions on Cusumano for filing what she calls a “frivolous” case.

Cusumano is considering an appeal.

Parise racked up his losses at MotorCity over the last 10 years.