Court Erred in Motorist Wrongful Death Case

     CINCINNATI (CN) – The 6th Circuit revived a lawsuit against a driver who allegedly made an illegal U-turn while leading another car, which caused an accident resulting in a motorcyclist’s death.
     Sandra Ruppert filed her wrongful death case against Freda Dagget on behalf of Ruppert’s late husband, Ivan.
     Ruppert claimed her husband was killed when the motorcycle he was riding on was cut off by a car driven by Michael Otteren, who was following Dagget’s vehicle. The accident was caused by an illegal U-turn taken by both Dagget and Otteren, but Ruppert claimed Dagget was liable because she knew Otteren was following her.
     A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit reversed a district court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of Dagget. The appeals court found that there are issues of disputed fact that a reasonable jury could find in favor of the plaintiff.
     “In Sponkowski, the Michigan Court of Appeals applied the voluntary assumption of duty doctrine to a driver who agreed to lead the way for others,” Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch wrote. “There, the defendant was the lead driver in a caravan of vehicles operated by persons who were unfamiliar with the route to the intended destination. After the leader lost control of his vehicle at a sharp turn and drove off the road, one of the trailing vehicles did the same. The plaintiff’s decedent was a passenger in that trailing vehicle and was killed when the car struck a tree.”
     Stranch continued: “Overruling the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendant for lack of duty, the Michigan Court of Appeals held the leader’s knowledge of the following drivers’ reliance on him ‘gave rise to a duty … to drive reasonably in light of the apparent risk to all those relying upon him, of which [the decedent] was one. Injury to [the decedent] is within the foreseeable risk of harm created by defendant’s alleged negligent conduct.’
     “Similarly, Daggett and Otteren had an understanding that Daggett would lead the way with the ‘plan’ of returning to the eastbound portion of the interstate. Drawing all inferences in Sandra Rupert’s favor, a jury could reasonably find that the agreement made it foreseeable to Daggett that any careless driving on her part would be followed by Otteren and result in additional danger to other motorists, particularly in light of the close proximity in which Daggett and Otteren were allegedly driving. Accordingly, we conclude that Daggett is not entitled to summary judgment as to the element of duty,” Stranch wrote.

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