October 05, 2021
Myair Barnett, acting as next friend of seven year old minor, Regina Porter, filed an action against Franchezka Flynn, Deja Jackson, and others, in part alleging that Flynn was grossly negligent and thus liable for the injuries suffered by the minor plaintiff when she was stuck by an automobile driven by Jackson.
Flynn, a Flint Mass Transportation Authority bus driver, dropped the minor off at an unestablished bus stop – at the side of a busy road, on the side of the street opposite to the minor’s home. The minor exited the bus, put her book bag over her head as it was raining, and took off running across the street in front of the bus rather than behind it. The minor was struck when she came out from in front of the bus.
Jackson testified she saw another vehicle cross the double yellow line and go around the bus. Jackson then stopped behind the bus. Believing the bus to be disabled, seeing no pedestrians, and seeing no four-way flashers on the bus, she proceeded to cross the double yellow line and go around the bus. She then struck the minor plaintiff.
Flynn moved for summary judgment, arguing that as a governmental employee she was entitled to immunity from liability. The trial court denied Flynn’s motion, concluding that whether Flynn’s actions were grossly negligent and whether she was the factual and proximate cause of the minor plaintiff’s injuries (and thus not entitled to immunity under the Governmental Tort Liability Act) were questions of fact for the jury to decide. Flynn appealed.
The sole issue on appeal was whether the minor plaintiff established a question of fact as to the causation of her injuries. The Court of Appeals majority agreed with the trial court, holding in the unpublished decision of Myair Barnett v Deja Jackson that there was a question of fact as to factual and proximate causation of the minor plaintiff’s injuries.
The Court of Appeals majority reasoned that when taking the entirety of Flynn’s actions and inactions into consideration, a reasonable jury could conclude that but for Flynn’s conduct, the minor plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred. In finding a question of fact as to proximate cause, the majority reasoned that a jury could reasonably conclude that due to the minor’s age she was not negligent and that Jackson acted reasonably when proceeding around a bus that appeared to be disabled, thus, leaving a question of fact as to whether Flynn’s action were the “most immediate, efficient, and direct cause” of the minor plaintiff’s injuries.
Judge Jansen issued a lengthy dissent in which she opined Flynn’s actions were neither the factual cause nor the proximate cause of the minor plaintiff’s injuries. In reaching this conclusion, Judge Jansen opined the majority failed to explicitly determine whether Flynn’s actions were first a cause in fact before reaching a conclusion about proximate cause. In analyzing factual cause, Judge Jansen reasoned that simply because it was disputed as to whether or not the bus’s four-way flashers where on at the time of the accident, this did not create a question of fact as Jackson expressly testified she still would have passed the bus had the flashers been on because she thought the bus was disabled. Judge Jansen further reasoned that the trial court and majority’s attempt to connect any breach on the part of Flynn to the minor plaintiff’s injuries were too circumstantial and tenuous to establish cause in fact.
Stating that proximate cause becomes irrelevant when there is a lack of cause in fact, Judge Jansen went on to opine there was also no question of fact as to proximate cause. She reasoned that a proximate cause analysis must include the legal responsibility of all the parties involved and whether each party was negligent. She noted the trial court and the majority failed to analyze whether Jackson was negligent in crossing a double yellow line to pass the bus and whether the minor plaintiff was negligent for her own injuries. In considering the possible negligence of both Jackson and minor plaintiff, Judge Jansen opined that Flynn’s actions could not be “the one most immediate, efficient, and direct cause” of the minor plaintiff’s injuries, and thus, Flynn is entitled to summary disposition.