News 10.02.23

Segal McCambridge Secures Michigan Appellate Court Win in Wrongful Death Case

Segal McCambridge Shareholder Geoffrey Leskie recently prevailed in the Michigan Court of Appeals by obtaining an affirmation of a summary dismissal on behalf of his clients in a wrongful death case in the Wayne County Circuit Court.

Lycette v. Midtown Charlotte, et. al. revolved around the tragic death of Timothy Lycette, an electrician who suffered a fatal injury while working alone on electrical equipment in a Detroit apartment building on September 24, 2018. Defendant Midtown Charlotte, LLC, the building's owner at the time of the incident, had contracted defendant Uniland Corporation for renovation work, which included updating and reinstalling a large bank of electrical meters in the basement of the apartment building. Timothy Lycette's employer, J. Simon & Sons Electrical, was subcontracted for this task. During the work, a large piece of electrical equipment detached from the wall while Lycette was working on it, resulting in Lycette's fatal injury. The building had previously been owned by defendant Leitrim Corporation, which is owned by defendant Joseph Early, but was sold to Midtown Charlotte in an "as is" condition roughly a year before the incident on November 20, 2017. Both before and after the sale, Midtown Charlotte conducted multiple inspections of the building’s systems, including the electrical system.

In addition to naming Midtown Charlotte, Uniland Corporation, and the manufacturer of the electrical equipment, Schneider Electric, as defendants in the lawsuit, the plaintiff filed suit against Leitrim Corporation, defendant Joseph P. Early LLC (operating as Early Construction), and Joseph Early (individually), alleging negligence. The Early defendants maintained throughout the litigation that they owed no legal duty to Lycette as the former owners of the building, and they were the only defendants who declined to settle with Plaintiff. After over two years of contentious litigation where the Early defendants fended off numerous motions, discovery requests, and depositions, the Early defendants successfully obtained summary dismissal in the trial court. The Early defendants argued that they owed no duty of care toward the decedent since Lycette’s claims were a matter of premises liability, not negligence, and since the Early defendants either never or no longer owned, possessed, or controlled the building at the time of the accident, they couldn't be held liable under a theory of premises liability. The trial court agreed with the Early defendants and granted their motion for summary disposition.

The plaintiff appealed the dismissal, and after the issues were fully briefed and oral argument was conducted before the Michigan Court of Appeals, the appellate court recently affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary dismissal as to the Early defendants. The appellate court reasoned that the Early defendants had no relationship with Lycette and did not possess or control the building at the time of the incident, so unless Lycette could show an exception under Christy v. Glass, 415 Mich. 684 (1982), which can be read to create a duty of care with respect to a former owner of property under certain circumstances, the Early defendants owed no duty to the decedent to prevent the incident.

The appellate court found that the plaintiff failed to establish that the Early defendants did not disclose to Midtown Charlotte any concealed conditions known to the Early defendants that involved an unreasonable danger. The appellate court also declined to extend Christy, as Plaintiff urged, to apply to circumstances when a seller did not know, but arguably should have known, of concealed and undisclosed conditions on the property. Ultimately, the plaintiff could not establish that the Early defendants owed Lycette a duty of care, and the Michigan Court of Appealed affirmed the trial court’s complete dismissal of the Early defendants.

Geoffrey Leskie represented Early Construction, Leitrim Corporation and Joseph P. Early in both the trial and appellate courts.