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Falls on residential property

   The Michigan Court of Appeals has continued to clarify and define owner liability for dangerous conditions on residential property.  A conservative majority on the Michigan Supreme Court has seriously constricted a property owner's liability for defective or hazardous conditions, by eliminating the landowner's duty to correct any defect that a visitor might have identified and avoided.  It has gone so far as to suggest that black ice, for example, need not be addressed because all Michigan residents should expect it at any time, whether in the dark or under snow, during winter months.

        The Court of Appeals has now decided several cases which clarify that this draconian rule does not apply where the State government has created a duty by landowners to provide residential tenants with reasonably safe common areas.  Thus, while a Wal Mart owes no duty to eliminate a hazard in the handicapped bathroom [that injures a blind woman], and a hotel owes no duty to avoid creating a skating pond on its parking lot [that injures a guest, an employee and a responding EMT], at least residential landlords owe a duty to keep their premises safe.

        It is important to note that the conservative Supreme Court Justices did NOT draw distinctions about what conditions are safe or reasonable:  it completely eliminated the property owner's duty to respond to unsafe conditions if they are theoretically identifiable by a sighted person in the daylight hours (with a handful of exceptions involving extreme hazards).  The Court measures the ability to perceive an unsafe condition by evaluating whether an "objective" ordinary person with no physical or age-related issues would be able to identify the hazard in good light (even if the property owner has not provided standard, safe lighting).

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
Fax: 231-929-7262