No Liability 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 governmental 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 Immunity

Despite this immunity, however, the state has codified six areas which are exceptions to the immunity statutes and for which governmental entities remain liable. If an individuals 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:

  1. Maintenance of public highways
  2. 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)
  3. Negligent operation of a government-owned motor vehicle
  4. Public building defects
  5. Performance of proprietary functions by government entities
  6. Medical care or treatment provided to a patient
  7. Sewage disposal system events

In this video, Grand Rapids personal injury attorney Tom Sinas talks about the concept of governmental immunity in negligence suits, and the exceptions to immunity.