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Landlord owes no duty to repair entry light

The Engler Majority on the Supreme Court has re-written the law to eliminate a property owner's duty to make reasonable repairs, if the hazard to be eliminated can be characterized as "apparent to a casual observer".  This doctrine is a maladaptation of the previous rule excusing a property owner from warning about an "open and obvious" hazard.  In Jewett v. Goodman, it resulted in the dismissal of a claim against a landlord for injuries resulting from the landlord's refusal to repair a light at the apartment entryway.

Ms. Jewett was visiting her daughter's apartment and left on a moonless night by the rear entrance.  She missed a step and fell in the dark, suffering a serious injury.  The landlord had previously refused to repair the inoperable light at this entryway.

Following precedent established by the Engler majority, the Court of Appeals panel was required to dismiss Jewett's claim for two reasons:  first, it was compelled to hold that the "open and obvious" doctrine applied because Jewett could have used an alternative entrance that was lit. Under the open and obvious doctrine, even if a condition is hazardous, the landowner owes no duty to repair it, if it is apparent to a casual observer and there is any means to avoid it.   Second, even though the landlord owed a statutory duty to repair the condition, under Engler Majority rules, this duty applies only in favor of the tenant and not to anyone else.

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