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There are some sports that are known to have a significant risk of injury, such as skiing or rock climbing. Under the tort law theory of inherent risk, people who voluntarily engage in these sports cannot hold anyone else accountable for injuries caused by the sport itself unless the negligence rises to a certain level. In other words, if you go skiing and break your leg, unless the owners of the ski resort were extremely negligent, you will probably not be able to sue them for damages. Without this heightened negligence standard for inherent risk, no ski resorts could operate because the costs would be prohibitive.

Facts of This Case

In a procedurally complicated opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals attempted to clarify whether the “parked vehicle exception” applied to injury during maintenance of the vehicle. In order to collect damages from an automobile insurer, the vehicle must be involved in the injury. This may seem straightforward and obvious, but as often happens with the law, it is not. Michigan law appears to hold that auto insurers do not have to pay for injuries when the vehicle is parked. However, the law also seems to say that insurance will cover injuries that occur during vehicle maintenance. This case looks at these potentially contradictory aspects of the law and discusses how the law should be applied in the instant case and cases with similar facts. While a case may seem simple at first, that is not always the reality. That is why if you are injured in any kind of accident, you should consult an experienced Michigan personal injury attorney as soon as possible. They can help frame and guide your case in a way that leads to the best results.

Facts of the Case

Both parties agreed on the basic facts of the case. A woman was using the vehicle provided by her employer. She stopped at a self-serve carwash to wash it, and as she was washing it she slipped and fell on ice. No one knows whether the ice was created by the water she was using to wash the vehicle, or if it was already on the ground. She attempted to recover damages from the insurer her employer used. It refused to pay for the injuries. The insurance company argued that the case should be dismissed because the injury just happened to occur near the employer’s car and the law excepts insurers from being responsible for accidents when the car is parked. Conversely, the injured party argued that since her injuries occurred during the maintenance of the car, under statutory and case law she is still entitled to payment from the insurance company. The insurance company moved for summary judgment, which would dismiss the case. The court found for the plaintiff and allowed the case to continue for the reasons explained below.

The Michigan Supreme Court recently clarified the standards for product liability. The Supreme Court overturned a case from the Michigan Court of Appeals that used the wrong standard to decide whether a case should go forward on a motion for summary judgment. In this case, the court held that a manufacturer is only liable for harm from misuse in a products liability case if the misuse was reasonably foreseeable. If you are injured by a product or machine, you should contact a knowledgeable Michigan product liability attorney to help you get any damages that you are entitled to from a defective product.

Current Case

Here, a man was injured while using a press machine manufactured by Dieffenbacher North America, Inc. He climbed partially inside the 500-ton machine without setting it on manual mode when he became trapped after the machine started its automatic cycle. He was seriously injured and sustained fractures in his back, as well as severe burns. He sued Dieffenbacher under a theory of product liability.

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.

A plaintiff appealed the lower court’s grant of summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) in favor of the defendant in a Michigan motorcycle accident case. The circuit court determined that the small claims judgment the plaintiff obtained against the defendant for damage to his motorcycle barred his subsequent circuit court action against her for bodily injuries because both claims arose from the same accident. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.In July 2013, the defendant drove through an intersection and hit the plaintiff, who was riding his motorcycle. The responding police officer determined that the defendant failed to yield. The plaintiff brought a claim in the small claims division in March 2014, stating that the accident destroyed his motorcycle and caused him bodily injuries. The plaintiff explained that he did not have collision insurance on the motorcycle, which would have cost one-fourth of the motorcycle’s estimated $1,000 value. Consequently, the plaintiff asked for $900 because he expected to sell what was left of the motorcycle for $100. He obtained a judgment of $960, including $900 in damages and $60 in costs.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint in the circuit court in July 2014 against the defendants (the driver and Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance Company) for claims arising out of the collision. He alleged that the driver’s negligence caused or exacerbated a neck injury that required surgery. The plaintiff agreed to dismiss one of his two claims against Frankenmuth, and Frankenmuth later settled his remaining claim.

The defendant moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) (prior judgment) and (C)(8) (failure to state a claim). The defendant argued that res judicata and collateral estoppel barred the circuit court action because the small claims action involved the same claims and the same parties. The plaintiff opposed the motion.

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.

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