Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Owners of property have a duty of reasonable care to keep visitors safe. It doesn’t matter whether the property is owned by a friend, business, or the government. While nothing can ever be 100% safe, the definition of what a “reasonable” amount of safety entails will depend on the circumstances. For example, a grocery store will be held to a different standard than a construction site. This principle is called premises liability. If you have been injured on the property of another you need to contact a knowledgeable Michigan premises liability attorney to help you decide if the property owner should be held accountable.

Premises Liability

Part of what determines the standard of reasonable care is the status of the injured person. In other words, whether you are trespassing on someone’s property or were specifically invited on to the property will make a difference in determining liability. In a case recently heard by the Michigan Court of Appeals, the injured person was an “invitee.” An invitee is someone who is on the property for the purpose of business, such as when you go to the store. In most cases, business owners owe invitees the greatest duty of care.

If you are injured on someone else’s property, including businesses and government property, you may want to hold the property owner responsible for the damages incurred due to your injuries. However, in order to recover you will need to prove certain specific things, discussed in more detail below. While cases like the one described here can illustrate some of the important points of Michigan personal injury law, only a knowledgeable Western Michigan personal injury attorney can tell you how your case is likely to play out in court.

Michigan Premises Liability

In order for the property owner to be liable for your injuries, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent. Negligence is defined as when one party owes another party a duty and they breach the duty, causing injury. Generally, business owners have a duty to keep the premises reasonably safe for customers. Of course, what is “reasonable” depends greatly on the facts and circumstances of the case. For example, this case revolves around a slip and fall in a gas station parking lot. What is reasonably safe in these circumstances is different than what may be considered reasonable in a junkyard or a restaurant.

The Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion earlier this year applying the “open and obvious doctrine” to resolve a lawsuit brought by an injured employee. Contractors were working on installing a fire protection system in an Ann Arbor building and had left some of the cables on the floor during the installation process. A security guard was patrolling the area and slipped and fell on the cables. He was injured and brought suit, alleging negligence and premises liability. The lower court did not allow the claim to go forward by granting the summary judgment motion of the defendants. The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court and affirmed the summary judgment ruling for the defendant.  If you are injured on someone else’s property, whether at work or not, you should contact an experienced Michigan premises liability attorney.

Standards of Proof

This case comes from a motion for summary judgment. This is a motion that a party can make at the beginning of a case. In order to win a motion for summary judgment, one party needs to prove to the judge that both sides agree on the general facts. Furthermore, they need to prove that the party who moved for summary judgment deserves to win as a matter of law.

If you are injured on public property due to government negligence, you will probably want to hold the government accountable for your injuries. In a case that recently came down from the Michigan Court of Appeals, the justices clarified the requirements to bring suit for injuries on government property. Since the government can sometimes claim immunity, unlike with individuals or businesses, there are additional hoops to jump through for those seeking damages. One of these differences is that you have less time to start the process to file your claim, so it is even more crucial that you contact a skilled Michigan premises liability attorney as soon as possible after an accident. The law gets complicated in this area, and if you don’t give notice to the proper entities in the proper way, the court may throw out your lawsuit, permanently barring you from bringing your case forward.

Government Responsibility

 In 2015, a woman was at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing when she tripped on uneven bricks on the front porch of the building. She ended up falling and suffering injuries. The law requires that the government maintain and repair public buildings that are open for use by the public. If the government knows about a dangerous condition and does not fix it in a reasonable time, it could be held liable for injuries sustained due to the defect. Potential plaintiffs have 120 days to give notice to the government of the injuries and their intent to sue.

Plaintiffs appealed an order granting summary disposition in favor of the defendant in a Michigan premises liability action involving an attack on the plaintiffs’ dog, Axle. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed.On May 13, 2015, the plaintiff brought Axle with her out into her backyard to do some gardening. Soon afterward, she left Axle out and went inside to retrieve some gloves. During her brief absence, the plaintiff heard barking at the back fence of her yard. She ran outside and saw Axle on the opposite side of her fence and two pit bulls “on top of him.” The plaintiff observed three or four men in the other yard, one of whom had a shovel and was attempting to beat the pit bulls off of Axle. The plaintiff also grabbed a shovel and cut her hand on the fence as she reached over to help. Eventually, they succeeded in stopping the attack. The plaintiff called Axle’s co-owner, and the two took Axle to a veterinary clinic for emergency care. Axle required specialty care about a week after the incident. Combined, the veterinary bills amounted to around $8,000.

Later, it was discovered that the two dogs belonged to one of several tenants living in the house behind the plaintiff’s backyard. The house where the tenant, his dogs, and his co-tenants resided was owned by their landlord, the defendant.

No one claims to have seen Axle enter the yard containing the pit bulls. The plaintiffs (Axle’s co-owners) suggested that the kinds of injuries Axle sustained to his neck and head on one side, and the markings on that same side, indicate that Axle was grabbed by the pit bulls and pulled over the fence before he was mauled. Although the landlord’s property was bounded by a four-foot-tall cyclone fence, the plaintiffs claimed that a two-foot-tall pile of leaves had collected in the corner of the yard, giving the other dogs a boost to the top.

A defendant appealed an order denying his motion for summary disposition in a Michigan slip and fall case. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for the entry of an order granting the defendant’s motion for summary disposition.On September 14, 2012, the plaintiff was in the defendant’s backyard, sitting by a fire that had been made in the defendant’s fire pit. The fire pit had been constructed that day and consisted of a corrugated metal fire ring set in a hole surrounded by a circular wall of landscaping blocks that was about nine inches tall. The area around the fire pit was covered with pea gravel. The plaintiff had helped spread and pat down that gravel the previous day. The plaintiff had been dating the defendant off and on since about 2004, and she had been to the defendant’s home hundreds of times.

On the night she fell, the plaintiff and the defendant were sitting in chairs by the fire pit drinking wine. The plaintiff was wearing rubber flip flop sandals and had her feet resting on top of the block wall surrounding the fire ring. At some point, the plaintiff felt too hot and decided to move her chair further away from the fire as the defendant was walking toward his house to get something. The plaintiff stood up and then turned around to grab the arms of the chair to move it, with her feet between the chair and the fire pit. As she leaned over to take hold of the chair, her feet started sliding backwards on the gravel, down a slight slope, until she lost her balance and fell backwards into the fire pit, causing her to sustain significant burns.

Subsequently, the plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging theories of negligence and premises liability. In particular, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant knew or should have known that the pea gravel immediately adjacent to the fire pit was unstable but failed to warn or protect her from the dangerous condition. Furthermore, the defendant’s conduct in lighting a fire in an unsafe fire pit was negligent.

The defendant appealed from a judgment entered after a jury verdict in a Michigan premises liability action. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s denial of the defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The appeals court also affirmed the trial judge’s denial of the defendant’s motion for a new trial as to damages with the exception of those based upon past and future medical expenses.While shopping at the defendant’s store, the plaintiff asked for assistance with some folding metal chairs that were located on a top shelf. An employee attempted to manipulate that stack of chairs, and they fell from the top shelf onto the plaintiff’s head. The plaintiff sued the defendant’s corporation, which, though it contested fault, did not contest that if the jury found its employee at fault, it would be liable under respondeat superior.

On appeal, the defendant first contended that the trial court erred by denying its motion for a directed verdict, in which it claimed that it had no duty to the plaintiff, based on the open and obvious danger doctrine. The appeals court agreed with the trial court that this motion was properly denied on both procedural and substantive grounds.

The appeals court concluded that the defendant waived any claim that the action did not sound in negligence. Early in the case, the trial court issued an order providing that once a formal Joint Final Pretrial Order (JFPO) is filed, it supersedes previous pleadings and orders and controls the trial proceedings. It further provided that the JFPO shall contain a concise statement of a defendant’s defenses and cross-claims, including legal theories. A JFPO was presented to the court by the parties and entered as an order. Under the heading “Defendant’s Claims,” the defendant listed multiple defenses but included no reference to premises liability or a defense that the plaintiff’s injury was caused by an open and obvious condition. Given the court’s pre-trial orders and the JFPO to which defense counsel stipulated, the defendant waived this argument.

Plaintiff appealed trial court’s grant of summary disposition in favor of defendant in a premises liability slip-and-fall action. Plaintiff was a business invitee at defendant’s Applebee’s Restaurant, walked to the restroom, and on her way back slipped and fell on an area of tiled flooring in front of the kitchen. After her fall, plaintiff noticed an oily residue on her hands and knees. Plaintiff contends that defendant knew or should have been aware of the condition of the floor and failed to properly maintain the premises. The trial court granted summary disposition upon concluding that plaintiff had failed to establish a genuine question of fact whether defendant had notice of or created the dangerous condition. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed.The appeals court first noted that the trial court properly deemed this a premises liability action rather than a negligence action, because plaintiff’s injury arose from an allegedly dangerous condition on the land. A plaintiff in a premises liability action has the burden to prove (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) the breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, and (4) the plaintiff suffered damages. A premises owner breaches its duty of care when it knows or should know of a dangerous condition on the premises of which the invitee is unaware and fails to fix the defect, guard against the defect, or warn the invitee of the defect. When there is no evidence to show that a defendant had actual knowledge of the condition, the issue is whether defendant had constructive notice. Constructive notice is established if the evidence demonstrates that the condition is of such a character, or has existed for a sufficient length of time, that the landowner should have had knowledge of it.  When the landowner or his agent creates the dangerous condition, active negligence exists, and proof of notice is not required.

Plaintiff did not assert that defendant had actual knowledge of the condition of the floor. The appeals court concluded plaintiff failed to prove that defendant had constructive notice of the defect by presenting evidence that the hazard was of such a character, or had existed for a sufficient time, that a reasonable premises possessor would have discovered it. By her own testimony, she had traversed the same area of the floor on her way to the restroom without noticing anything wrong, and she opined that it was “different” on the way back when she fell. Indeed, plaintiff did not observe any grease on the floor at all, but rather only on her hands and knees; other witnesses testified that they inspected the area after the fall and saw no grease or oil on the floor.

Plaintiff argued that the floor had by defendant’s admission not been cleaned for many hours. However, although the residue on plaintiff’s hands and knees was sufficient to raise a question of fact as to whether there was residue on the floor when she fell, it was pure speculation when it was deposited, and based on her noticing a difference on her way back from the restroom and her own description of how difficult it was to get up after her fall, the evidence strongly implied that any such residue could not have been deposited longer ago than her trip to the restroom. Furthermore, its invisibility to her and to the other witnesses also suggested that defendant should not have been aware of its presence until plaintiff fell.

A Michigan man has filed suit against an Atlanta-based hip-hop duo for hitting his nose with a water bottle during a show. Court documents signify that the plaintiff–who has not been identified–attended a show in October 2016, at which the rappers recklessly launched full water bottles into the audience. One hit the plaintiff directly in the face, allegedly leaving him with a migraine and permanent scarring.The plaintiff claimed the water bottle was catapulted forcefully enough to rip off a “chunk of his face.” He was sent via ambulance to the hospital, where they determined that he would be permanently disfigured and scarred. He filed suit for assault, battery, and negligence. He is seeking damages for medical fees, as well as punitive damages.

This isn’t the only lawsuit of its kind. Also this month, one of Katy Perry’s stagehands claimed she lost a toe while working on Perry’s tour. Christina Fish was hired for Perry’s 2014 international tour. At a North Carolina show, a wall Fish was asked to move got stuck and rolled over her foot. Her toe allegedly became gangrenous and eventually needed to be amputated. Fish is suing Perry, Live Nation, and several production companies for damages.

Likewise, a woman who was allegedly raped at a Future and Drake concert last year is suing both rappers (among other defendants) for $25 million. She claims the defendants’ negligence caused the rape. According to the federal lawsuit, the woman (identified as Jane Doe) claimed that during an August 2016 concert in Nashville, she was approached by a man associated with the venue who offered to take her backstage. As the woman followed the man backstage, the lawsuit claimed, he suddenly pushed her to the ground and “violently assaulted her, shattering her cell phone and causing severe physical and psychological injury.” The lawsuit claims that her attacker had a public history of assault, and therefore the defendants should have known that employing him could “pose unreasonable risk to others.”

A plaintiff appealed an Oakland Circuit Court order granting summary disposition in favor of the defendant in a premises liability action. Holding the plaintiff failed to establish that he was the defendant’s tenant or that the defendant had notice of the alleged dangerous condition, the Michigan Appeals Court affirmed.In February 2014, the plaintiff drove to the defendant’s clubhouse to pay rent. As he walked back toward his car, he slipped on a patch of ice, fell, and was seriously injured. The plaintiff sued the defendant property owner/manager for negligence and a violation of his statutory duties. The defendant moved for summary disposition, arguing that it had no actual or constructive knowledge of the ice. The defendant further asserted that neither of the statutory violations alleged by the plaintiff applied. The trial court agreed, granted the defendant’s motion, and dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint. The plaintiff appealed.

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