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A Better Partnership
September 25, 2014

COA holds parking area on public road falls within the highway governmental immunity exception

In Yono v. Department of Transportation, No. 308698, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that an injury occurring in an area of a public road that is not primarily used as a thoroughfare may still fall within the highway avoidance exception to governmental immunity. Further, the Court held that a complaint alleged under this exception need not detail the exact location of the injury.
Helen Yono parked her vehicle in a parking area located on the side of M-22. While walking from her car the she fell and was injured. Yono filed a claim against the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) under the highway exception to governmental immunity under MCL 691.1402(1). Yono argued that the DOT did not maintain the “highway in reasonable repair so that it [was] reasonably safe and convenient for public travel,” and that she was walking within the “improved area designed for vehicular travel” as required by the statute to fall within the exception.
The Court first considered whether Yono’s complaint was adequate. The complaint stated that Yono was walking on the improved portion of M-22 when she was injured, and that the DOT had exclusive jurisdiction of the highway and failed to maintain it, which caused her injury. Yono did not, however, state that she fell on the portion of the highway designed for vehicular travel; only that she was walking on it.  Still, Yono’s complaint was sufficient in that it alleged that she was walking on an improved area designed for vehicular travel.  No “magic words” were necessary.
Next, the Court held that the parking area was designed for vehicular travel because one must travel into the area to park their vehicle.  The Court determined that the word “designed” meant “planned, purposed or intended for that purpose”; and defined “vehicle” as “any wheeled vehicle, including human powered vehicles, horse drawn buggies and motorized vehicles.”
Finally, because the DOT did not provide evidence that the parking area on the side of M-22 was not designed for vehicular travel, and because the area fell within the definition of “designed for vehicular travel,” Yono’s claim survived the DOT’s motion for summary disposition.

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