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Summary disposition overturned; landlord can't argue his duty to identify hazards is limited to what visitor would see on casual inspection

Charlotte Grandberry-Lovette was a health care aide who provided care to disabled persons living in a single family home rented by its owner/builder, Mark Garascia, to a local agency serving the tenants.  She fell while entering the home for her midnight shift, when decorative brickwork on the front steps crumbled underneath her.

The landlord persuaded the trial judge to grant summary disposition by arguing that if the nurse aide didn't notice the deteriorating bricks "on casual inspection" [the legal standard for "open and obvious" hazards which relieve a lnandowner of duty to repair] then he could not be held accountable for failing to recognize that the bricks were deteriorating.  The injured woman appealed the judge's ruling.

The appeals court started its analysis by noting that the law has historically held a property owner to a higher duty of "inspection" than a visiting person.  While a visitor is held to have been warned of any condition that is "open and obvious...on casual inspection" the possessor of the premises used for business purposes owes a duty to make reasonable inspection of the property.  If a defect would have been discovered on reasonable inspection, the property owner owes a duty to make reasonable repair or warn of the hazard.

In the instant case, Garascia was a licensed contractor for twenty years who had worked in his father's construction business and as a bricklayer before starting his own business.  He admitted that between 9 and 18 months prior to the injury, he had made repairs to the steps because bricks were loose.  He testified that such mortarwork commonly fails in Michigan winter weather conditions and that an impending failure could only be identified by "wiggling" the brickwork.  He admitted that while he had visually inspected the steps in the interim, he had not manually examined the brickwork since he made the repairs or after the last winter.

The Appellate Court concluded that summary disposition should not have been granted and that the trial judge had mistakenly held the landowner to the same limiited duty applicable to a visitor.  It ruled that jurors could reasonably conclude from the Defendant's own testimony that a reasonable landlord would have manually examined the brick work after the previous winter, and that if he had done so, he would have identified the slowly deteriorating mortar.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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