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School janitor "owes no duty" to injured school board member

Ruth Williams, a member of the Inkster School Board, was in the cafeteria for an enrollment fair.  A contractor's employee had just mopped the cafeteria floor but didn't set out any warnings. Williams fell and severly fractured her ankle.  She sued the contractor, alleging negligence in failing to post a warning to meeting invitees that the floor was newly mopped and slippery.  The Court held that the contractor and its employees--whether negligent or not--owed no duty to her or any other person entering the cafeteria.

In another example of "contract immunity", a result engineered by the activist Engler majority of the Michigan Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals held that the company hired to clean the floors of the school owed no duty to act safely in performing its contractual duties:  by executing a contract with the school system to perform its cleaning duties, it wiped out any duty to the public (or school system employees or agents) to act reasonably or safely.

In prior web log entries, we have addressed this absurd contractual immunity argument and explained how even insurance defense attorneys have written scholarly articles that reject the concept.  Entering a contract to do a job should not exempt a contractor from its ordinary duty to the public to act reasonably for the safety of others.  That duty existed prior to the contract, and there is no justification in law or in policy for eliminating the duty to act with reasonable attention to safety, simply because you've now been hired to perform a task by a third-party. If anything, the contract should imply and confirm the duty to act safely.

The Court also concluded that the "mopper" did not create a "new" hazard, which would be an exception to the contractual immunity argument.  It is probably news to everyone but Judge Henry Saad, the insurers' best friend, that turning a dry floor into a wet, soapy floor, does not create a "new" hazard.

This case stands as another example of the judicial activists in Michigan pandering to the insurance industry, against the better interests of the citizenry.  Hopefully, the outcome of this case is ridiculous enough to warrant a second look by the Supreme Court.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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