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Court reconsiders; again grants immunity to Hotel for obviously unsafe speakers' podium

Norma Chesser sued the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo months after she fell off the stage immediately after giving a short speech.  Chesser was returning to her seat and was forced to walk between other speakers' chairs and the edge of the stage.  She did not realize that one of the speakers had apparently pushed a chair back, narrowing the walkable edge of the stage, and she stepped into oblivion, suffering injuries.  Earlier this spring the Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge and dismissed her injury claim. The Court held that the Radisson was immune from injury claims because the danger presented by the stage was "open and obvious."

The panel of the Court then granted reconsideration and it appeared that this absurd public policy decision would be reversed.  Today, the Court issued its new opinion and the only thing changed was the rationale by which the "open and obvious" decision was justified.  Where the earlier opinion had suggested that Chasser should have interrupted the program rather than attempting to make her way back to her seat, this opinion focuses on the broader, less absurd--and less human--aspect of the case.

The Court recognized that Ms. Chasser raised "important and reasonable concerns" but that they are "essentially policy issues" foreclosed by the "Enger Majority" of the Michigan Supreme Court and therefore must be directed to the state legislature.  It doesn't matter that industry standards were violated in the stage design or that the Hotel employees admitted negligence.  It doesn't matter that no reasonable person in Chasser's position would have interrupted the program to force the Hotel to re-arrange the stage.  Since the danger was "open and obvious," the users bear all of the risks and the creator of the danger owes no duty to make repairs.

What a crass example of insurance-oriented, unjust jurisprudence.  It is mindful of the West Branch case involving an EMT who suffered a fractured ankle tending to a patient in a motel parking lot:  the original victim fell in an area where hotel employees had sprayed the building roof with water, allowing it to freeze in the parking lot.  The court in that case essentially held that when the EMT encountered this "open and obvious" danger, he should have left the victim to rot, rather than attempt to render aid.  The hotel was immune from damages because the EMT voluntarily exposed himself to an "open and obvious" danger.

Given that Ms. Chesser was of advanced age, the case also brings to mind the Michigan case where a blind woman fell after encountering a messy floor on the handicap bathroom at Home Depot.  As in that case, this Court held that Ms. Chesser's individual characteristics were irrelevent, since the only question to be decided is whether the hazard would be "open and obvious" to the "normal" objective, reasonable [sighted and reasonably youthful] person.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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