Michigan Supreme Court to hear virtual oral arguments amid pandemic

By Lee Dryden
BridgeTower Media Newswires
 
The Michigan Supreme Court will hear virtual oral arguments during the coronavirus pandemic.

Arguments will begin at 9:30 a.m. April 15 followed by the second case at 10:30 a.m. Justices will participate via Zoom and the attorneys for the parties have all agreed to argue their cases using Zoom. Two more cases will heard on April 22.

Oral arguments will be livestreamed here. Information below is from case summaries provided by the Michigan Courts.

• Gaydos v. Bender – 9:30 a.m. April 15
Diana Lykos Voutsaras and her husband, Spiro Voutsaras, were defendants in a foreclosure action brought by Gallagher Investments, the holder of the note on their mortgage. They filed a counterclaim and a third-party claim against Gallagher and others, alleging professional malpractice. The Voutsarases’ attorney hired another attorney as well as real estate experts to provide litigation support services and to give expert testimony at trial.

Ultimately, their attorney informed them that the litigation strategy was doomed to fail, and the trial court granted summary disposition against the Voutsarases in the foreclosure action.

After Diana died in January 2015, her estate filed this malpractice action against her attorneys and the attorney and real estate experts retained in the underlying foreclosure action. Plaintiff-estate alleged that the retained
experts failed to provide professionally competent opinions. The trial court held that defendants were entitled to witness immunity, and granted summary disposition in their favor.

Plaintiff-estate appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in a published opinion, holding that “licensed professionals owe the same duty to the party for whom they testify as they would to any client and that witness immunity is not a defense against professional malpractice.”

The Supreme Court has ordered oral argument on defendants’ application for leave to appeal to address whether the privilege of witness immunity extends to suits against retained experts. See Maiden v. Rozwood, 461 Mich 109 (1999).

• Skanska USA Building Inc. v. M.A.P. Mechanical Contractors – 10:30 a.m. April 15

Plaintiff Skanska USA Building, Inc., was the construction manager on a hospital renovation project in Midland. Plaintiff subcontracted the heating and cooling portion of the project to defendant M.A.P. Mechanical Contractors, Inc. M.A.P. obtained a commercial general liability insurance policy from defendant Amerisure Insurance Company. Plaintiff and the hospital were named as additional insureds on the CGL policy. M.A.P. improperly installed parts of the heating system, resulting in damage that required extensive repairs.

After plaintiff notified M.A.P. of the faulty installation, M.A.P. sent a notice of claim to Amerisure. Meanwhile, the hospital demanded payment of damages from plaintiff, who in turn sent a demand letter to M.A.P., asserting that it was responsible for all repair costs. Plaintiff performed the repairs and submitted a claim for coverage to Amerisure, which was denied. Plaintiff then filed this lawsuit against M.A.P. and Amerisure.

The trial court denied Amerisure’s motion for summary disposition, finding that genuine issues of material fact existed whether the faulty installation was an “occurrence” under the policy. The trial court also denied plaintiff’s motion for summary disposition. Both parties appealed, arguing that the coverage issue should be resolved as a matter of law. The Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals and reversed in an unpublished opinion, holding that there was no “occurrence” under the policy because damage only occurred to plaintiff’s own work product.

The Supreme Court has granted plaintiff’s application for leave to appeal to address whether: (1) the definition of “occurrence” in Hawkeye-Security Ins Co v. Vector Construction Co, 185 Mich App 369 (1990), remains valid under the terms of the CGL policy at issue here; and (2) plaintiff has shown a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of an “occurrence” under those terms.




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