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Store owes no duty to eliminate known "serious hazard" where ice forms near entrance

Nancy Torres suffered serious injuries when she slipped on ice near the entryway to the Goodwill Industries store in Grand Rapids.  The parking lot was covered under several inches of snow when Torres' daughter dropped her off:  Ms. Torres didn't want to wade through the snow  (and whatever it covered) so she opted to approach the entrance on a walkway that had been shoveled but  appeared dark and perhaps wet.  When she arrived at the dark wet spot, Torres slipped on ice and fell.  The Manager of the store acknowledged that water dripped off the roof in that location and regularly formed a patch of ice. 

Despite the fact that a roof design flaw created the icy patch--and that the store knew about the condition which the Court termed a "serious hazard"--and despite the fact that the store salted the location regularly but did not fix it (or salt it on the day of Torres' injury), Judges Zahra and Kirsten Kelly ruled that Ms. Torres could not force the store to pay for any share of her expenses or damages.

These two judges applied the "open and obvious" rule to Ms. Torres' situation.  They relied on the Engler Majority's previous ruling suggesting that whenever there is snow on the ground, an injury victim is held to a duty of anticipating ice underfoot but the landowner is not:  if the victim then falls on ice, the sole burden of the injury falls on the victim, because the landowner's duty to eliminate even a "serious hazard" is eliminated by the presence of the "warning" associated with snow on the ground.

As one can readily appreciate, this and other holdings like it represent a public policy choice:  A) to relieve commercial establishments of their previously-existing duty to respond to "serious hazards" in a timely manner so as to make their property reasonably safe for visitors; and B) not to apportion the expense of preventable injuries among the persons whose "fault"  or "negligence" allow them to occur, and rather to leave them solely with the injured party.

Zahra and Kelly suggested that a "reasonable shopper" confronted with Torres' choices would have postponed her errand or "taken her business elsewhere", absent an "urgent necessity."  We have become a "winner-take-all," heartless, let-the-buyer-beware, unforgiving culture, dominated by an unrealistic pseudo-market philosophy that suggests humans--but not commercial entities--are walking risk analysts who should be disproportionately penalized for any errors in judgment.  In truth, decisions like this one merely demonstrate the political power struggle initiated by the insurance-dominated Chamber of Commerce, and within Michigan's courts, the Chamber's dominance in that struggle.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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