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Another decision exonerating a commercial entity from its duty to provide a reasonably safe commercial property

For several years, insurance and Chamber of Commerce activists on Michigan's Supreme Court have been aggressively eliminating the duty to make a property safe for invited commercial visitors.  This trend continued in Belhabib v. J & B of Michigan, when the Plaintiff fell at the entryway to the defendant's ice arena.  The Court found no exceptions that would have created a duty on the part of the arena owners to assure that their entryway was reasonably safe.

The Plaintiff fell on snow-covered ice in front of the only entry to the building.  His attorneys alleged that the unsafe entryway was a nuisance, creating in the owner a legal duty to make the entry way reasonably safe.  The Court held that nuisance law does not create any such duty on the part of landowners, and that snow and ice are "open and obvious" hazards that the landowner owes no duty to remedy or alleviate.

The attorneys also argued that this case had "special aspects" that created a duty, because the Plaintiff had no other means of entering the property.  In this regard, Plaintiff cited Robertson v. Blue Water Oil, a case in which the court made an exception for "open and obvious" hazards based on the fact that the injured man had no safe means of walking from the defendant's gas pumps to its cashier.  Analyzing a photograph taken of the entryway to the ice rink, the court held that the current injury victim could have threaded a safe route to the door.

Finally, the Court cited an opinion from the Court of Appeals--later adopted by the activist majority of the Supreme Court--which held that falling on a layer of snow, or falling down ice-coated stairs "does not give rise to the type of severe harm contemplated [by the Supreme Court]."   Sadly, only a very partisan or a very ignorant person could claim that a fall on ice "cannot cause severe harm".  We have represented clients who suffered fatal or permanently debilitating head injuries in falls on ice.  In 30 years, we have also represented clients who suffered near-catastrophic leg and spinal cord injuries in falls on ice.  The Court has "legislated" away the duty to maintain a safe premises in part based on the fiction that no one seriously hurt will suffer by the court's action.  This is judicial activism at its worst and precisely what the Chamber of Commerce has been purchasing.  Your homeowner's liability insurance should be dirt-cheap in Michigan:  it protects you from a risk of legal liability that for the most part does not exist.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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