Plaintiffs were employees of Caro Regional Center who were attacked by a patient. 

         After being found not guilty by reason of insanity at a criminal trial on another matter, the patient was admitted to Caro  in December 2003.  While at Caro, the patient showed progress and was given a grounds pass which gave him unsupervised access to the grounds at Caro  for 15-minute periods.  On June 22, 2004, the defendant, a locum tenens (i.e., temporary) psychiatrist at Caro, examined the patient so he could give testimony at an upcoming probate court hearing regarding the patient.  That evening, the patient used his grounds pass and disappeared from Caro.  Three days later, he reappeared at the Caro Learning Center nearby, where he  attacked the plaintiffs with a hammer and his fists, severely injuring them.  He was apprehended three days later and was found guilty but mentally ill of assault with intent to commit murder, MCL 750.83.

          In a civil lawsuit against defendant-psychiatrist, the trial court found defendant to be entitled to governmental immunity under MCL 691.1407(2), and thus not liable for the plaintiffs’ injuries.  The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the psychiatrist was not an employee of Caro.  The Court of Appeals disagreed with the plaintiffs and affirmed the dismissal of the psychiatrist. 

         The Court of Appeals noted that under the Governmental Immunity Act, MCL 691.1407(2), employees of a governmental agency are immune from tort liability  for injuries to persons if: 1) the employee is acting within the scope of his authority; 2) the governmental agency is engaged in a governmental function; and 3) the employee’s actions are not grossly negligent.  Here, the psychiatrist was called an “independent contractor.”  However, this is not dispositive.  Whether he is an employee for purposes of the Act and can be subject to tort liability depends on application of the “economic reality” test.  The following four factors are considered:  1) the governmental unit’s control of the worker’s duties; 2) payment of wages; 3) right to hire, fire, and discipline, and 4)performance of the duties as an integral part of the employer’s business towards the accomplishment of a common goal.   Under this test, the trial court correctly found that the defendant-psychiatrist was an employee of Caro.  The evidence showed that the defendant’s supervisors at Caro had the right to control the defendant’s duties.  They had the right to discipline and fire him.  He was considered part of the staff at Caro.  He was required to abide by the bylaws in place for staff members.  His supervisor testified that his duties were “more or less” the same as other staff psychiatrists.  They could take corrective action against him. 

        Under the totality of the circumstances, the trial court correctly concluded that the defendant was an employee entitled to governmental immunity.

 What This Means For Injured Plaintiffs:  If you are injured by the actions of a governmental worker, it is not the employee’s title that determines whether or not he is immune from suit but rather the four factors in the economic reality test.  This makes it more likely that the employee will be found to be immune.

You can read the entire opinion here.

Authored by Barbara A. Assendelft

            Plaintiff, age 19, attended an after-prom party at the home of defendant’s son, who was a junior in high school and a minor.  The party was held in a pole barn on the defendant-father’s property, which was located a short distance from the house.  Alcohol was served at the party.  The alcohol was brought in by other guests.  A fight broke out at the party and Plaintiff was seriously injured by another guest, who was 24 years old.  The guest attacked the plaintiff with a baseball bat, causing injury to the plaintiff’s head.  The evidence showed that the son’s mother was not home at the time of the party and the son’s father (defendant) was asleep in the house at the time of the party.  There was no evidence that the mother or father knew that alcohol was going to be served, as the alcohol was brought in by other guests.

             Plaintiff filed suit against the defendant-parents  under the legal theory of “social host liability,” MCL 750.141a, which provides that owners of premises shall not knowingly allow a minor to consume or possess alcohol at a social gathering on their premises.   The trial court entered summary judgment for the parents, and the plaintiff appealed.

             The Court of Appeals affirmed judgment for the parents.  The Court of Appeals noted that social host liability cannot be premised on the serving of alcohol to adults (persons over the age of 18).  Since the attacker was 24 years old and an adult, social host liability can not be asserted.  In addition, although there are some contra cases, the Court of Appeals here held that there is no exception to this rule for criminal acts, i.e., when the injury to the plaintiff is caused by an assault or battery by the wrongdoer, as opposed to, for example, the wrongdoer’s drunken driving.  

             As another grounds for its holding, the Court of Appeals held that here was insufficient evidence that the mother or father had knowledge that minors were consuming alcohol at the party.  Knowledge is an essential factor in MCL 750.141a; the statute prohibits a person/host from “knowingly” allowing a minor to consume alcohol at a social gathering.  Here, the mother was not home at the time of the party, and evidence showed that the father was asleep during the party. 

  What this means for social hosts:  If you host a party at which both minors and adults attend, and alcohol is served and a guest is injured by an intoxicated adult, no liability will lie against the hosts under the social host liability statute. The statute solely prohibits furnishing alcohol to a minor at a gathering.  In addition, if a guest’s injury is caused by a fight at the party, no liability will lie because the social liability act doesn’t cover criminal acts.  The other important point of the case is that for liability to lie, the person hosting the party (i.e., the parent) has to have knowledge that alcohols is being served.  This means that the parent either had actual knowledge, or circumstances exist which would cause a reasonable person to conclude that the parent had knowledge. Here, because the party was held in a pole barn on the defendant-father’s property and since he was asleep during the party, there was insufficient evidence of knowledge.  However, had the father actually gone to the pole barn, observed the drinking, and went back to the house without taking corrective action, it could be said that he violated the statute.

You can read the entire opinion here.


Authored by Barbara A. Assendelft