Buckley crash triggers lawsuits against highway department

Aug 30, 2016

A fatal car crash in August of 2015 near Buckley has resulted in lawsuits against the State of Michigan. Family members of the victims, Anthony and Deanna Erving, say the stretch of M-37 with two 90-degree curves was not safe, and highway officials ignored the problem.

The Ervings died when a car crossed the centerline and struck their motorcycle.

George Thompson is representing the son of Anthony Erving in one of the lawsuits against the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says the Ervings were not the first people killed on that stretch of road.

“There’s a strong history of multiple fatalities and many serious injuries there,” says Thompson. “It’s gone on for probably 25 years now.”

This came up in the criminal case of Alyssa Goch, the driver who hit and killed the  Ervings. Her attorney, Jesse Williams, argued that the dangerous road was to blame. Jurors found her guilty of causing the deaths.  

Hard to hold the government liable

Recent rulings from the Michigan Supreme Court have limited the ability of victims to bring civil cases against state and county road authorities for unsafe roads. In a 2000 ruling, the court narrowed the liability of government to problems related to “the actual roadbed, paved or unpaved, designed for vehicular travel.” The court said even problems related to signs or traffic lights would not be the basis for a lawsuit.  

Thompson says the case here does involve the roadbed. He says the state’s own friction test at the showed it was not safe for those curves and it was resurfaced after the fatal crash last August.

“They had decided to do that the year before,” says Thompson.

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation declined to comment on the lawsuits.