Metro Detroit Personal Injury Lawyer
Immunity For Governmental Functions
The general rule in Michigan is that government agencies and their employees are immune from tort liability when they are engaged in governmental functions. MCL 691.1401 et seq. Michigan law defines a "governmental function" as:
"... an activity that is expressly or impliedly mandated or authorized by constitution, statute, local charter or ordinance, or other law. Governmental function includes an activity performed on public or private property by a sworn law enforcement officer within the scope of the law enforcement officer's authority, as directed or assigned by his or her public employer for the purpose of public safety."
Governmental immunity exists in order to protect government agencies from having to stop and consider the potential for litigation each time they act. After all, we wouldn't want the fire department to stop and weigh whether they was trespassing on property when attempting to save a loved one from a burning house.
Similarly, government employees are afforded qualified immunity for their negligent acts if they can establish the following elements under MCL 691.1407(2):
The officer, employee, member, or volunteer is acting or reasonably believes he or she is acting within the scope of his or her authority;
The governmental agency is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function; and
The officer's, employee's, member's, or volunteer's conduct does not amount to gross negligence that is the proximate cause of the injury or damage.
As the third element above reveals, government employees and officers remain liable for gross negligence. Gross negligence is defined by statute as "conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results." MCL 691.1407(8)(a).
High level government officials (judges, legislators, and other executive officials) are granted absolute immunity, meaning they are shielded from all liability whenever they are acting within their judicial, legislative or executive authority. MCL 691.1407(5).
Exceptions To Immunity
There are, however, six recognized exceptions to the general rule that the government is immune from tort liability. In each of these exceptions, the injured party would be able to bring a lawsuit against the government for compensation:
- Failure to maintain and repair public highways, including improperly maintained sidewalks
- The negligent operation of government-owned vehicles
- Dangerous or defective conditions in public buildings
- The performance of proprietary functions
- The ownership or operation of a government hospital (medical care exception)
- Property damage or physical injury as a result of a sewer system overflow or backup