Woman may sue landlord for failing to remove ice and snow from apartment steps
Kathryn Hadden fell and fractured a hip as she tried to traverse the steps to her apartment. She had twice alerted the landlord to the presence of ice and snow on the 12 exterior steps, however, she testified that she did not observe the ice on this trip up the stairs until after she fell. She claimed that in the dark she did not see the ice, or the frozen downspout above it, until after she had fallen.
Hadden's attorneys claimed that the McDermitt Apartments, LLC, was responsible for Hadden's injury because it had violated the state statute requiring a landlord to assure that common areas are "fit for the purpose intended." The attorneys noted that even the Engler Majority had recognized this legal duty as an exception to the judicially-created "open and obvious" doctrine. The latter doctrine eliminated the landowner's duty to warn of "obvious" dangers, and the Engler Majority expanded it to completely immunize the owner from responsibility for hazards that are observable on casual inspection.
On appeal, the judges ruled that it was a question of fact for the jury to determine whether the icy condition of the unlit stairs rendered them unfit for tenants' use. It distinguished this case from an earlier decision holding that a parking lot with two inches of new snow was not a violation of the statutory duty as a matter of law.