On Thursday, November 15, 2012, Stephen Sinas argued the case of Price v High Pointe Oil Company before the Michigan Supreme Court. Jim Graves and Stephen Sinas have represented Beckie Price as a result of an incident that occurred on November 17, 2007, in which High Pointe Oil Company negligently released 400 gallons of fuel oil directly into the basement of Ms. Price’s home in DeWitt, Michigan. As a result of the incident, Ms. Price was immediately displaced from her home and the home had to be destroyed. Despite its negligence, High Pointe Oil Company argued that it only had to compensate Ms. Price for the fair market value of her house and her damaged personal property. However, Jim Graves and Stephen Sinas argued at the trial court that Ms. Price should be able to ask a jury to award her additional damages for her annoyance, inconvenience, humiliation, shock, and mental anguish that naturally flowed from having her home suddenly destroyed and her being immediately displaced therefrom.
The Clinton County Circuit Court Judge ruled in favor of Ms. Price and allowed her to present her claim for these additional damages to a jury. After hearing all of the evidence regarding the substantial impact the incident had on Ms. Price’s life, the jury awarded Ms. Price additional damages in the amount of $100,000. After the jury’s verdict, High Pointe Oil Company appealed the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals to ask for a ruling that Ms. Price should have never been able to ask the jury for these additional damages.
In the published Opinion in Price v High Pointe Oil Company, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s ruling that Ms. Price should have been able to ask the jury to award her the additional damages for all she went through as a result of the horrific experience of losing her home. Notably, the Michigan Court of Appeals recognized that this was an issue of first impression under Michigan law.
After losing at the Court of Appeals, High Pointe Oil Company appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. The Michigan Supreme Court ultimately granted High Pointe Oil Company’s request to hear the case and ordered the parties to fully brief the issue of whether a person can claim noneconomic damages as a result of the negligent destruction of the person’s home.
In arguing the case before the Michigan Supreme Court, Stephen Sinas urged the Court to uphold the ruling of the trial court and the Michigan Court of Appeals. He argued that it was only fair to allow Ms. Price to ask a jury to award these additional damages, in light of the horrific experience she endured as a result of High Pointe’s negligent conduct. He further urged the Court to reject High Pointe’s position that Ms. Price had been fully compensated for her losses since High Pointe had paid the fair market value of her house, because Ms. Price clearly sustained more damages than simply the fair market value of her house.
We hope the Michigan Supreme Court upholds the Court of Appeals ruling, so when a negligent actor destroys a Michigan citizen’s home, the citizen will be able to recover damages for the substantial disruption and anguish that naturally flows from that horrific experience. We expect that the Michigan Supreme Court will issue its opinion in the summer of 2013.
Steve Sinas Describes Price v. High Pointe on WLAJ “In the Name of the Law”
As part of his recurring appearances on “In the Name of the Law,” Steve Sinas explained the particulars of this case in an episode entitled “Life’s Not Fair.”