No Government Liability in Michigan if Engaged in a Governmental Function
Michigan law generally holds that governmental agencies and employees are immune from liability for their negligent acts if those negligent acts were performed within the scope of their governmental employment. Such immunity allows government agencies and employees to function and carry out ministerial acts without the constant threat of legal ramifications for their actions or decisions.
Specifically, Michigan governmental agencies and municipalities enjoy immunity from liability for their negligent acts so long as they were engaged in a “governmental function” at the time of the alleged negligent act. MCL 691.1401 et seq. The act defines a governmental function as follows:
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 is designed to protect government agencies from having to weigh the potential for lawsuits every time they attempt to take governmental action. Without immunity in some form, many governmental functions would cease to exist, as the costs and consequences associated with having to continuously defend against lawsuits would outweigh the potential benefits of taking any action.
Exceptions to the General Rule of Government Immunity in Michigan
Despite this immunity, however, Michigan law outlines six exceptions to the immunity statutes and for which governmental entities remain liable. If an individual is injured while the government is engaged in conduct within one of these recognized exceptions, the injured victim is permitted to bring suit against the government to recover for his or her injuries. The exceptions are:
- Maintenance of public highways
- Public sidewalks (Note: Public Act 419 of 2016 allows municipalities to assert the open-and-obvious defense for premises liability claims stemming from sidewalk defects)
- Negligent operation of a government-owned motor vehicle
- Public building defects
- Performance of proprietary functions by government entities
- Medical care or treatment provided to a patient
- Sewage disposal system events
Absolute Government Immunity Versus Qualified Government Immunity
Under Michigan law, certain governmental actors cannot for any reason be sued. This includes judges and legislators, for example. However, under the concept of qualified government immunity, injured parties can bring suit against other governmental actors if their conduct was above and beyond negligent. For instance, in certain cases of police misconduct, injured parties or families pursuing wrongful death claims have successfully brought suit against police officers and police departments on the basis of gross misconduct.