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Trial lawyers specializing in personal injury and civil litigation

Hotel design need not meet safe standards

When Cathy Shattuck fell while exiting the bath tub at the Hotel Baronette, she wasn't certain if she lost her balance on the "extra-deep" tub or the slippery tile step outside of it.  The Court held that it didn't matter:  either condition was an "open and obvious" danger, so the hotel owed her no duty to make it safe.  It is an ugly acknowledgement of the current state of our law, and confirmation of our courts' reflexive rejection of personal injury claims, that a court could decide that "we find that all three surfaces posed open and obvious dangers" to Shattuck, and that as a result, the owner owed her no duty!

Perhaps Shattuck was more careless than the hotel owner.  Perhaps the hotel owner did not reasonably anticipate that its design posed an unreasonable risk to guests.  Perhaps simply putting up a warning or a handrail would have been a reasonable response to the apparently obvious hazard of the tub design.  All of those possible defenses warrant consideration.  One thing is clear, however:  a premises' owner should not be relieved of his duty to his guests because the dangers of normal use of the property are "obvious". 

If this hotel room design is in fact dangerously slippery and unsafe, the owner should be faced with a choice of repairing it or paying for injuries to users.  It is poor public policy to tell the owner of a commercial property that no matter how many people are hurt by a dangerous condition, there is no duty to fix it, so long as it is "discoverable on casual inspection".  This Engler Majority abomination of the law is even more reprehensible when one considers that the standard applies to block a claim even if the victim is blind, disabled, a child or even retarded.  It can be applied even if the condition is encountered in the dark:  The Engler majority said it should be an "objective" standard not dependant upon the individual's personal characteristics or the ambient light. 

We've yet to encounter anyone, judge, juror or even defense counsel, who considers this a fair and reasoned legal outcome.  This is what happens when the Chamber of Commerce, the insurance industry, or any other special interest, is allowed to "purchase" judges and legislators.  Principled justice becomes secondary to financial and political alliances.

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