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October 25, 2013

COA holds that, unless his invitation is linked to business interests, a slip-and-fall plaintiff is a licensee.

In Sanders v. Perfecting Church, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that, for an individual to be an invitee and so owed a higher duty of care while on another’s property, the invitation must be directly tied to the property owner’s commercial business interests.

Brenda Sanders was injured after she slipped and fell on a patch of oil in the Perfecting Church parking lot.  She had been on her way to attend a church service and to purchase a meal at the Perfecting Church café after the service.  An on-site nurse treated Sanders for her injuries.  Sanders sued the church.  She argued that she was an invitee and therefore the church owed her a duty to inspect its premises and make it safe.  The trial court rejected this argument and declared that Sanders was merely a licensee, and thus the church only owed Sanders a duty to warn her of any hidden or unreasonably dangerous conditions.  The court dismissed Sanders’s complaint on the basis that the church had not breached this duty.  The Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Court concluded that although Sanders was at the church for some “commercial” reason (having lunch at the café), this was not enough to make Sanders an invitee.  A plaintiff is only granted invitee status, if the reason for the invitation was “directly tied to the owner’s commercial business interests.”  The court reasoned that Sanders was predominantly invited to the church to attend religious services.  Moreover, any income generated at the café was a “minimal” contribution to the church’s general fund.  Accordingly, Sanders was only a licensee and there was no evidence the church knew or had reason to know of a hidden unreasonably dangerous condition in its parking lot.

The Court also affirmed the trial court’s denial of Sanders’s motion to amend her complaint to add claims of medical malpractice, unauthorized practice of medicine, and violation of HIPAA.  The medical-malpractice claim was barred by the statute of limitations, and Sanders waived the other claims by failing to explain her argument.  The Court further affirmed the trial court’s denial of Sanders’ motion for reconsideration of the summary-disposition ruling, and declined to consider the appeal relating to the denial of her motion to compel as it was moot. This opinion was previously issued as unpublished on July 16, 2013.

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