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Michigan Supreme Court issues orders summarily reversing lower courts' denials of summary disposition in two premises liabilty claims

The insurer-friendly Michigan Supreme Court has virtually eliminated a property owner's duty to maintain property in a manner that is reasonably safe for invitees.  The Republican Justices' primary tool in eliminating this obligation has been the broadening of the so-called "open and obvious" danger exception from a property owner's duty:  if an invited visitor might have seen a hazardous condition "on casual inspection," the hazard is deemed open and obvious and the property owner is excused from any duty--let alone a reasonable duty--to address the hazard or make it safe.  Other decisions have similarly limited the property owner's duty with regard to unsafe or hazardous actions, by instituting a rule that the owner won't be responsible for unsafe acts if they have [merely] created an open danger on the property.

The high court re-emphasized this policy position with two summary decisions handed down on November 25 of this year.  On that date the Court summarily reversed two Court of Appeals holdings that had denied summary disposition sought by a landlord and a "race club." 

In Compau v. Pioneer Resource Company, et al.,  the high court held that a spectator who entered property to watch a lawn mower race could not sue after tripping on a poorly-located railroad tie when she and other spectators attempted to avoid two racers that collided and were ejected from the race track into the crowd.  The Court held that even if the railroad tie was a dangerous condition, Compau couldn't sue over her injuries because she admitted that she had seen the tie earlier in the day when she arrived at the property.  Subsequent distractions involving the race and crowd did not affect the "obvious" nature of the hazard or make the commercial operator responsible for its unsafe condition.  The Justices also held that since the hazard was "obvious" the race operator was not responsible for any alleged negligence in how it conducted the lawn mower race which it had invited spectators on the property to watch.

In Simpson v. GFI Management, et al., the Court ruled that the Court of Appeals erred in denying summary disposition to a landlord who required tenants to walk their dogs in a "designated dog run area" of the apartment complex.  Simpson fell and suffered injury while carrying her elderly dog through accumulated ice and snow to the designated area.  She argued that while the accumulation of ice and snow was an obvious hazard, she had not choice but to confront the hazard, given the complex's rules governing loose dogs and time limitations resulting from her elderly dog's need to relieve itself.  The appellate court panel agreed with Simpson, however, the Supreme Court rejected her argument and summarily dismissed her injury claim.  The high court ruled that Simpson's conundrum was not "inescapable."

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