Garbage truck in operation whether moving or not, COA says

In Strozier v. Flint Community Schools, et al., the Michigan Court of Appeals allowed a case to get to a jury, in which the plaintiff alleged she was injured when a school bus hit a garbage truck.

Witness testimony conflicted as to whether the garbage truck was in motion as the school bus passed it on a two-lane highway in Flint. The bus apparently swerved back into the lane quickly to avoid oncoming traffic, and clipped the garbage truck. At the time of the incident, Flint sanitation workers were collecting garbage along the road.

The Michigan Court of Appeals said it didn’t matter if the truck was in motion or not, because it was “in operation” for the purposes of the motor vehicle exception to the Michigan Governmental Tort Liability Act, MCL 691.1405.

The panel said, even if the truck wasn’t moving, it was still in operation under the Supreme Court’s decision in Chandler v. County of Muskegon because it was being operated as a motor vehicle and “encompasse[d] activities that are directly associated with the driving of a motor vehicle.” It compared the facts favorably to another case in which the Supreme Court issued an order only, Martin v. Rapid Inter-Urban Transit Partnership, while distinguishing it from a case in which a city truck was parked on the side of the road, Poppen v. Tovey. The Martin case involved a bus passenger was injured when she slipped on icy bus steps while exiting. The order said “[t]he loading and unloading of passengers is an action within the ‘operation’ of a shuttle bus.”

This case is factually similar to Martin and distinct from Chandler and Poppen. In Poppen, the defendant parked the truck on the road, with its hazard lights on, for about five minutes, in a way that indicated it was not currently in use as a vehicle. Similarly, in Chandler, the bus was parked in a maintenance garage as the driver exited the vehicle, indicating that use of the bus as a vehicle had ended. Here, even if the garbage truck were stopped, it was stopped because it was carrying out its intended function of picking up garbage. As it is impossible for a garbage truck to perform the function for which it was designed without periodically stopping to pick up garbage, we conclude that stopping to pick up garbage is necessarily included within the “operation” of a garbage truck. Therefore, we conclude that summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) was not warranted where the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity would apply regardless of whether the facts are as plaintiff contends, or as defendant contends.