Michigan High School Coach in Court After Student Struck By Car
The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a student whose family sued his high school cross-country coach after the student was hit by a car during practice.
Ray, a 13-year-old member of the Chelsea High School cross-country team, was struck by a car in 2011.
The Court explains, "The accident occurred at the intersection of Freer Road and Old US-12 while Ray was running with the Chelsea High School cross-county team. Eric Swager, the team’s coach, was running with the team that morning. As the team approached the intersection in question, they encountered a “red hand” on the pedestrian signal, indicating that pedestrians should not cross the road. Although the eyewitness accounts vary, there is evidence that Swager said something to effect of “let’s go,” and the team crossed the street. Ray, who was in the back of the group, ran into the road and he was hit."
Ray sustained a severe brain injury and was partially paralyzed by the accident.
The Michigan Court of Appeals had previously ruled that Swager was entitled to governmental immunity. Johnson Law, the firm representing the student, appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court vacated the Michigan Court of Appeals decision and sent the case back. On October 24, 2017, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Swager is not entitled to dismissal based on governmental immunity. The case will now proceed to trial in Washtenaw Circuit Court.
The judges recognize that it is a highly emotional case, but also say that emotions can't factor into their ruling. Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Mark T. Boonstra writes:
First, courts must be ever vigilant to decide cases based on legal merits, not emotion. This case presents an incident that by any measure was nothing short of tragic, and one young man and his family will suffer a lifetime of consequences that the rest of us can at best only imagine. In the face of such tragedy, judges should be appropriately sympathetic. Human empathy survives the donning of a black robe. That said, it is equally true (though perhaps less understood) that in a world of pure legal issues—such as that of an appellate court whose charge is to assess whether legal error occurred in a lower court—even sympathetic judges must set emotion aside and dispassionately decide the legal issues presented without bias or favor toward any party. Appeals to emotion, while understandable, belong elsewhere.