Beals v. Michigan (Opinion on Application)Annotate this Case
The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's consideration was whether defendant lifeguard's failure to intervene in the deceased's drowning was "the proximate cause" of his death. While governmental agencies and their employees are generally immune from tort liability under the governmental tort liability act (GTLA), MCL 691.1407(2)(c) provided an exception to this general rule when a governmental employee's conduct is both (1) grossly negligent and (2) "the proximate cause" of an injury, which the Michigan Supreme Court interpreted to mean the "most immediate, efficient, and direct cause". Plaintiff sued defendant, a governmental employee, arguing that governmental immunity did not apply because defendant's grossly negligent behavior while lifeguarding and resulting failure to rescue plaintiff's drowning son was the proximate cause of his death. Subsequently, defendant moved for summary judgment on immunity grounds, but the trial court denied defendant's motion. The Court of Appeals, in a split opinion, affirmed, concluding that a jury could reasonably find that defendant's failure to intervene constituted the proximate cause of the deceased's death. The Court of Appeals dissent instead concluded that defendant was immune from liability. After review, the Supreme Court held that the trial court erred by denying summary judgment to defendant, because the exception to governmental immunity articulated in MCL 691.1407(2) was inapplicable in this case.