Michigan Appeals Court Holds Plaintiff Failed to Prove Defendant Had Notice of Dangerous Condition in Slip and Fall Case

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.

He first argued that the trial court erred in finding that there was no lease between the plaintiff and the defendant and that therefore the landlord-tenant claim based upon MCL 554.139 failed as a matter of law. The appeals court disagreed.

MCL 554.139 provides that in every lease or license of residential premises, the lessor or licensor covenants:  (a) that the premises and all common areas are fit for the use intended by the parties; and (b) to keep the premises in reasonable repair during the term of the lease or license.

In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant owned and operated the rental premises. He claimed that while walking in the common area of those premises, he slipped and was injured. He alleged that the defendant violated statutory and common law duties, claiming negligence and citing MCL 554.139 and MCL 125.536. The plaintiff never alleged that he was a tenant of the defendant’s or resided in an apartment in a complex owned by the defendant. The plaintiff did not attach a copy of a lease to the complaint. In order for MCL 554.139 to apply, the defendant must have been the lessor or licensor of residential property of which the plaintiff was a licensee or lessee. Since there was no allegation that this relationship existed, the appeals court held that summary disposition was appropriate concerning the plaintiff’s MCL 554.139 claim.

The plaintiff next argued that there was a genuine issue of material fact about whether the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition. The appeals court rejected this argument.

As to actual notice, the plaintiff did not see the ice until he was on top of it. He testified that he did not see it from a standing position, although he specifically watched where he walked due to his use of a cane. There was no testimony that anyone had complained to the defendant about ice existing on the sidewalk on the date of the fall or beforehand.

The plaintiff also failed to establish that the defendant had constructive notice of the ice. He testified that he was unaware of how long the ice had been there and presented no evidence indicating the length of time the patch of ice had been present. Moreover, he described the ice as “black ice,” indicating that he could not see it from a standing position, thereby suggesting that the ice was not something the defendant would notice. The appeals court therefore held that the trial court properly granted summary disposition based upon the plaintiff’s failure to show the defendant’s notice of the hazardous condition, a crucial element of the claim.

For these reasons, the appeals court affirmed.

The premises liability attorneys at the Neumann Law Group represent families throughout Michigan from offices in Traverse City and Grand Rapids. Call us at (231) 463-0122 or at (616) 717-5666 for a free consultation.

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