Fall in slush and ice while opening heavy entry door does not avoid "open and obvious" defense
Venus Nichols sued the Family Dollar Stores and Mad Dog Puppy Investments after she fell while trying to enter the front door of the Dollar Store in Muskegon. She claimed that her fall was a combination of the mild downward slope of the entryway, a very heavy door with wind blowing against it, and icy, slushy conditions at the doorway. She argued that the defendant commercial enterprise owed a duty to render the entryway more safe by clearing the ice and slush.The Defendants argued that they owed no duty to address the entryway conditions because the danger of entering the doorway, in these weather conditions, was "open and obvious on casual inspection." Nichols' attorneys responded that a casual observer would not anticipate the problem to be encountered when an invitee attempted to open the heavy door.
The trial court applied the open and obvious doctrine, found no special circumstances to avoid it, and dismissed Nichols' claim. The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision, since the primary cause of the fall was the weather condition. Even though the entryway was not reasonably safe for entry, Nichols' action was precluded by prior Supreme Court precedent holding that a casual observer must heed and avoid slippery conditions--even black ice--if adverse weather conditions alert the observer to the POTENTIAL for ice.