January 06, 2022
In Estate of Riley Robinson v Larry Robinson, Sr. and Ann Robinson, the Court of Appeals addressed the question whether the Recreational Land Use Act (“RUA”) applied over the Civil Liability Act, MCL 257.401, et seq of the Michigan Vehicle Code (“MVC”). In a published decision, issued December 28, 2021, the Court determined the RUA controls and affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant. Garan Lucow Miller’s own Peter Worden and Daniel Saylor handled the matter in the Circuit Court and Court of Appeals respectively.
Defendant Larry Robinson owned land in northern Michigan. His minor granddaughters, and others, often rode ATVs on trails on his land. One day, his granddaughters borrowed Defendant’s ATV and went for a ride on one of the trails. The ATV crashed resulting in injury to one granddaughter and the death of the other. Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant claiming negligence, but failed to specifically state a claim under the MVC in her complaint.
Defendant sought summary disposition of Plaintiff’s claims arguing they were barred by the RUA, and Plaintiff failed to plead gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct as required for liability to attach under the RUA. Plaintiff argued the MVC should apply instead, and filed a motion to amend her complaint. The Circuit Court denied Plaintiff’s motion to amend, finding the amendment would be futile because the RUA applied, and Plaintiff’s claims under the MVC were “trumped” by the RUA. The Court further found the record contained no evidence to support a finding of gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct sufficient to create a question of fact regarding the level of Defendant’s negligence. Summary disposition was granted in favor of Defendant.
The Court of Appeals noted that the RUA is a “liability limiting” rather than a “liability-imposing” act, providing immunity for landowners from personal-injury lawsuits by persons using their property recreationally, regardless of age (i.e., even when minors are injured such as in the present case). The Court noted that the Civil Liability Act of the MVC broadly imposes liability for the negligent operation of a motor vehicle if the owner knows or has consented to the operation of that motor vehicle. The Court also noted that the RUA and the MVC both apply to ATVs.
The Court then determined that the RUA governs over the MVC in this case because it applies with greater specificity to the circumstances of this case. “The RUA applies when a person who is on the land of another, without paying the owner, for the purpose of ‘motorcycling, snowmobiling, or any other outdoor recreational use or trail use’ is injured.” The RUA deals directly with the potential liability of landowners when other persons recreationally use their property with ATVs, where by contrast the MVC applies to all motor vehicles in all places and all circumstances. In this case, Plaintiff did not pay Defendant any consideration to use his land to ride ATVs and therefore, Plaintiff’s action is subject to the RUA. Because the MVC does not apply, the Circuit Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Plaintiff’s motion to amend her Complaint and the grant of summary disposition in favor of Defendant was affirmed.