Rare win for two victims who fell on ice in motel parking lot
Horst Ehrler and Karen Godlewski both suffered injuries on the same day when they fell in the Frankenmuth Motel parking lot. The area had suffered an ice storm about two hours before they fell, however, the Motel had no standing arrangements to clear or salt ice, and no instructions for the staff. When the office manager on duty arrived, she noticed that the parking lot was a sea of ice, but assumed that a contractor would be arriving to salt. She claimed to have salted the areas immediately adjacent to the office but took no other actions to warn or protect patrons.Godlewski, 64, fell when returning from the office to her room, and suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung. Ehrler suffered a rotator cuff injury while retrieving Godlewski's purse for her after being attracted to the scene of her injury.
The trial court had dismissed both claims, finding no duty on the part of the motel to address an "open and obvious" danger. The appellate court reversed, emphasizing the two-hour delay in responding to the ice and the fact that for motel patrons, the icy condition was "unavoidable." On that basis, the majority held that the question of negligence was one for the jury.
Judge Pat Donofrio dissented. He argued that the open and obvious defense should be applied because motel patrons could have merely retreated to their rooms and requested help. One wonders whether Judge Donofrio, arguably a "reasonable man," would have adopted that course if he were in one of the units that morning.