Three Michigan Court of Appeals judges have cleared a path for a lawsuit to move forward against the Duncan Park Commission and Trust.
The judges overturned Circuit Court Judge Jon Hulsing’s earlier decisions to dismiss the claims. Hulsing considered the park as being under the City of Grand Haven’s umbrella and therefore immune to liability for the boy’s death.
Appellate Judges Elizabeth Gleicher, William Whitbeck and Joel Hoekstra scrutinized the Duncan Park Commission and Trust documents dating back 100 years and determined that “the document created a trust which conveyed legal ownership of the land to three trustees rather than to the City.”
“Because the Commission is a private organization empowered by the trust to manage the park without any governmental oversight, we hold that it may not invoke governmental immunity to avoid liability for Chance’s death,” the ruling, issued Thursday, states.
Read the ruling from the Circuit Court by clicking on the document attached below this story
The Nash family’s series of wrongful death lawsuits – which claim, in part, that the Duncan Woods Commission had the responsibility to maintain what is known as a popular sledding area in Grand Haven – started in November 2010 against the park’s commission and trust.
The park commissioners at the time – Ed Lystra, Jerry Scott and Rodney Griswold – said that the boy was not injured on one of the park’s normal sledding areas off Woodlawn Avenue or by the park’s picnic area, but instead in a more heavily wooded area of the park.
An additional lawsuit was filed in April 2012 against the trust and the three trustees individually, with a later move to add the part-time groundskeeper of Duncan Woods, Robert DeHare, as a defendant in the case.
The first two lawsuits were denied by Hulsing, primarily on the basis of government immunity, and the claim against DeHare was set aside awaiting an appellate decision about the park’s right to government immunity.
When reached by phone Friday afternoon, Greg Longworth, an attorney handling the cases for the park and its officials, said he was unaware of the appellate decision and would not “be in a position” to comment after he reads the decision.
“So… no comment,” he said.
John Tallman, the attorney for the Nash family, was in court Friday and didn’t return a message left at his office.