Premises' owner not responsible for head injury caused by door that jumped its track
In Hartfield v. Stop 'N Lock Properties, the injured man's claim against the property owner where he was hurt was dismissed by the trial court and the Court of Appeals. Hartfield's attorneys claimed that the owner should have known that the injury-causing door was dangerous, and would have known of its dangerous condition if it had properly inspected its property on a timely basis. Hartsfield's attorneys argued that the evidence at least created a question of fact for the jury to resolve regarding this issue.
The owner claimed that "the hazard posed by the door was open and obvious" AND that "there was no evidence that the owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous condition" [despite its "open and obvious" nature....]. As an aside, Michigan law is clear that a property owner has a duty to investigate, find and either repair or warn invitees of the existence of a hazardous condition on its property. This duty may be relaxed where the invitee could see the unsafe condition on "casual inspection".
In Hartsfield's case, the Court allowed the owner to get away with taking a contradictory position as a matter of law: it held that there was no proof that the owner "should have known" of the unsafe condition. It sounds like Hartsfield, and many other injury victims, are left with a Catch-22: If an unsafe condition isn't obvious, the owner owes no duty; if it is "obvious", the owner's duty to repair is wiped out. As a practical result: the so-called duty to reasonably maintain a commercial property is eliminated without the courts admitting it.