Price v High Pointe Oil Company: Michigan Supreme Court Delivers Blow to Homeowners

The Michigan Supreme Court handed down a decision recently in the case of Price v High Pointe Oil Company that represents a significant loss for homeowners and their ability to obtain compensation in cases involving the destruction of their homes.

Imagine this: while at work, you receive an urgent phone call informing you that your home – the home you built and lived in for over 30 years — has been flooded by 400 gallons of toxic, home-heating oil.

Beckie Price received such a phone call back in 2007 when her home was destroyed by an oil company that negligently pumped hundreds of gallons of heating oil into her basement. Due to the toxicity of the oil, her home had to be razed and excavated. For the next two years, she was forced to live in temporary housing while a replacement home was built. It’s not hard to imagine the mental anguish caused by such a catastrophic event and its aftermath.

Ms. Price retained Attorney James Graves of our office to represent her interests in the matter. Over the next two years, Attorney Graves and Ms. Price fought Defendant for just compensation. The parties settled the “economic” portion of Ms. Price’s case, that is, the costs associated with things such as the construction of a new home, damaged personal property, and temporary housing. But the case went to trial on the issue of Ms. Price’s noneconomic damages – i.e., the stress and inconvenience of being suddenly uprooted from one’s home and the hours upon hours spent addressing the endless problems arising from such a situation. Attorney Graves obtained a $100,000 jury verdict for Ms. Price.

Defendant appealed the jury verdict to the Michigan Court of Appeals. However, with the assistance of Attorney Steven Hicks, Attorney Graves prevailed as the Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.

Unfortunately, the case made its way to the Michigan Supreme Court where the jury verdict was vacated. The Supreme Court held that noneconomic damages such as mental anguish are not recoverable in cases involving the destruction of real property. According to the Court, this rule applies regardless of the extreme inconvenience caused to homeowners or any sentimental connection one has to his or her home.