"Contractual immunity" strikes again
William Lenz tripped over a bag of clean linens that a Valley City Linen employee had left at the manager's door in the Baja Fresh restaurant. Lenz claimed he did not see the dark bag on the floor as he walked to the restroom. He has vision problems and a "drop-foot." He apparently suffered serious injuries. A patron confirmed that Lenz apparently fell on the dark bag which was indistinguishable on the black tile floor.
The Court dismissed Lenz's claim against the restaurant, finding that the bag of linens had not been present long enough (only 20 minutes) for the Baja Fresh restaurant to detect a hazard to customers. The Court also held that even if the Valley City Linen employee was negligent in depositing the bag of linens where he did, he could not be held responsible because he was acting under a contract with the restaurant: according to a recent decision by the Engler Majority of the Michigan Supreme Court, taking on a contractual duty to act eliminates the party's duty to act reasonably towards all other persons.
In any of the other 49 states, there would be no disagreement that the Valley City employee owed a duty to act reasonably in all of his actions. He can't park his truck on the road where it posed an unreasonable risk; he can't throw his deliveries out the window on his way by, hoping they don't strike anyone. It is an absurd distortion of the common law to suggest that the Valley City contract with the restaurant immunizes it from owing any duty to innocent third-parties. Unfortunately, it is the law in Michigan unless and until a new majority of the Michigan Supreme Court overturns this activist product of aggressive pro-insurance jurists.