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Liability for knocking someone off your porch?

  We reported in an earlier blog the distressing case of Kwiatkowski v. Coachlight Estates.  In that case,  the legal action brought by a man who suffered serious injury when knocked off a neighbor's porch was dismissed by the Court of Appeals pursuant to the argument that the small porch he was knocked off was an "open and obvious" danger which relieved the defendant/resident of any duty to open the door carefully.  In a rare victory for an injury victim in Michigan, a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court overturned this decision on appeal, February 8.

  A more complete discussion of the facts of the case can be found earlier in our weblog under Premises Liability.  In short, the victim, who was "seriously hurt", alleged that when he knocked on the resident's door, the defendant "slammed" the door open and into the victim's chest, knocking him off the porch and to the ground.  The trial court held that the victim's injury was caused by the defendant's negligence, not by any condition of the premises, thus denying the insurer's motion for summary disposition.

  The two judge majority of the Court of Appeals overturned the trial court's decision back in July and granted the defendant and insurer's motion for summary disposition, holding that the plaintiff was injured by his fall, "not by the door hitting him in the chest"....even though it was the door striking him that caused the fall.  This absurd, semantic distinction was rejected by Judge Kathleen Jansen in a dissenting opinion, and on appeal to the Supreme Court, a majority of the Justices adopted her decision. 

  Judge Jansen and the Supreme Court majority confirmed that it was the homeowner's alleged conduct in opening the door in an irresponsible manner that might have been negligent and should be considered by the jury.  The claim that a premise defect was "open and obvious" was irrelevant to this alleged negligence claim.

   It was nice to see that there is some intellectual limit to the degree to which some of the activist Republicans on the Supreme Court will stretch in order to protect insurance companies.  Sadly, Justices Corrigan and Markman dissented from the Supreme Court's decision.  They have yet to hear an insurer's argument--no matter how absurd--with which they disagree.

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