Family of man killed when bike hits pothole can pursue lawsuit, justices rule

Lawsuit in Kent Co. Pothole death can proceed

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - The family of a motorcyclist who died after striking potholes on a Kent County road can continue their lawsuit seeking damages stemming from the man’s May 2014 death, the state Court of Appeals ruled.

The published opinion says Matthew Michael Denney’s family can seek compensation for loss of financial support, overturning a Kent County Circuit Court ruling that dismissed part of the wrongful death case.

Denney was heading to the annual Blessing of the Bikes ceremony in Baldwin when he was thrown from his motorcycle after hitting two potholes, according to the lawsuit. The May 18, 2014, accident happened on Peach Ridge Avenue north of 8 Mile Road NW in Kent County’s Alpine Township.

Denny, 42, who was with four other riders, fell from his motorcycle after hitting potholes in the northbound lane of Peach Ridge. He died from head injuries.

The lawsuit was filed in Oct. 2014 on behalf of his widow, Kimberly Denney. It contends the county failed to properly maintain the road.

Kent County denied responsibility for Denney’s death and contends one of the other riders struck Denney’s motorcycle, causing the accident, court records show.

The county argued it should not be liable for damages beyond bodily injuries suffered by Denney and should not have to compensate his widow for loss of financial support, citing government immunity.

In a six-page decision released Wednesday, Nov. 16, the Court of Appeals disagreed. The decision was published, meaning it is binding on lower courts.

Justices said damages for lost wages and loss of earnings are fair game under the Government Tort Liability Act. It held that the highway exception to governmental immunity allows Denney’s widow to sue for lost earnings.

Had Denney survived the accident, he would be able to recover damages for earnings lost because of his injuries. That claim can continue despite his death, justices wrote.

Grand Rapids attorney Scott R. Melton, who represents the Denney family, applauded the ruling.

“It eliminates a potentially harsh result where the individual who had the misfortune of dying from his injuries is somehow deprived of his legal remedies and his family is deprived of financial benefits they otherwise would have been entitled to,’’ Melton said Wednesday.

The attorney representing Kent County was out of town Wednesday and not immediately available for comment.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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