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Failing to provide handrail on stairs of public building is "obvious" defect but not negligence

Irene Ambs fell down the stairs after exiting the Family Counseling and Shelter Services of Monroe County.  She could not explain why she fell and admitted that she might not have taken a step down the stairway, yet, at the time of her fall.  Nevertheless, she maintained that if the stairs was equipped with a railing, she would not have fallen.  The Court pointed out her inability to explain how she fell as the foundation for ruling that she could not sue over the fall.  It then went on, in pure "dicta" [that is, a holding that is unnecessary to the decision], to rule that it didn't matter anyway.  The Defendants owed no duty to equip the stairs with a handrail.

In justifying the latter holding, the Court offered several rationalizations that make sense only in a political atmosphere where the State's highest court is attempting to limit personal injury claims.  Despite the landowner's duty to "exercise reasonable care" for invitees, this landowner owed no duty to install a handrail--even if it was required by governmental ordinance.  Furthermore, even though the stairway was "an open and obvious hazard ['detectable by an ordinary person on casual inspection']" it was not "unreasonably dangerous."

Thus, an admitted hazard that is "obvious" even on casual inspection--and which violates governmental building codes--invokes no duty on the part of the landowner, and instead becomes an excuse for denying the victim any recourse for medical expenses or wages lost.  In Ambs' case, even the fact that the door to the Center locked behind her was deemed insufficient to warrant her decision to walk down the "obviously unsafe" public stairs:  the Court held she didn't prove that Center staff would not have responded to a knock and let her back into the building. 

I'm sorry, but any lay person exercising common sense and decency would know that "if the law says that, the law is a ass," to quote a famous author.  Political tensions created by the insurance industry and Chamber of Commerce have resulted in the adoption by the Engler Majority in Michigan  of several exceptional doctrines  that are accepted nowhere else in Christendom and make no sense here, either.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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