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Landowner not negligent in turning off light, leaving guest in darkness

Patrick Fitzpatrick was injured when Teresa Betanzos turned off the porch light, leaving him to negotiate a stairway in the dark.  He filed a negligence claim, arguing that his injury resulted from an uneven stair he did not anticipate in the dark.  The Court rejected his negligence claim against Teresa, and ruled that he had failed to avoid the "open and obvious" defense to a premises liability claim.

We hope that Fitzpatrick's attorneys will appeal this ruling, since it incorrectly dismisses the active negligence claim arising from Teresa's mistake in turning off the light.  Architects will tell you that non-uniform stair heights are a significant hazard resulting in many stairway injuries.  No doubt the condition of the premises played a role in Fitzpatrick's injuries.  Further, these non-uniform stairway risers are not "open and obvious" on casual inspection and should provide the foundation for a legal premises claim. 

Nevertheless, Teresa's act of turning off the light before Fitzpatrick negotiated the stairway is one of simple negligence that should not turn on an "open and obvious" analysis; the higher court has made that distinction previously in a case where the homeowner allegedly knocked a guest off an entryway that was too small to accommodate the swing of the front door and a guest.  We hope Fitzpatrick has the stamina to pursue an appeal.

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