Republicans on Michigan's Supreme Court affirm severely limited duty of landowner to eliminate hazards
In yet another 4-3 decision, the Republicans on Michigan's Supreme Court affirmed their position contrary to the Restatement of Torts [sort of the national textbook of law governing personal injuries and damages] and stressed the limitations on a landowner's duty to keep his property reasonably safe. It issued its opinion while overturning two lower courts' holdings that refused to grant summary disposition to a strip mall owner in Ironwood.
The case involved injuries suffered by Charlotte Hoffner when she fell on ice while entering her Fitness Center. She said she saw ice at the entryway, but did not think it was dangerous. She was wrong. Her injury action was based on her right to enter the Fitness Center--where she had bought a membership---and the argument that the landowner owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to make the only entryway safe.The Supreme Court's Republican members used the occasion to reverse the lower courts' holdings and to emphasize their theory that a landowner owes no duty to eliminate a hazard that is "open and obvious" [or visible on casual inspection]. The Justices in the majority had left a limited exception in the past, holding that where there were "special circumstances" a duty might exist to some visitors. In this case, they made clear that they see that exception as involving only situations where the visitor is "trapped" on the property and cannot avoid a hazard.
The Court majority has also talked about an exception involving hazards that are an extreme danger, however, they did not consider an icy entryway to qualify as an "unreasonable danger." Under the Restatement and in the courts of most states, it is for the jury to decide whether the property is reasonably safe, whether the possessor knew of the danger, and whether he or she took reasonable steps to make it safe or warn of it. If the jury concludes that the landowner did not do enough, it owes damages reduced by the percentage share of fault associated with the victim's behavior.