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A Better Partnership
December 19, 2014

COA gives the cold shoulder to any special aspects of plaintiff’s icy slip-and-fall

In Bullard v. Oakwood Annapolis Hospital, No. 317334, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that Mr. Bullard could not show the necessary “special aspects” of an open and obvious hazard in order for Oakwood to be liable for his slip-and-fall injuries. The Court remanded the case with an order to grant Oakwood’s motion for summary disposition.
Mr. Bullard was an electrician employed by Edgewood Electric, which held a contract with Oakwood.  It was Mr. Bullard’s duty to test Oakwood’s five generators on a monthly basis. Doing so required him to “climb an indoor ladder to reach the roof, open a hatch, cross a stone walkway, scale another ladder, cross a metal catwalk to the generator, and finally walk across three 2x8 planks to reach the generator’s control panel."  
On a day in February 2011, Mr. Bullard noticed ice and snow on his path to the generator.  He then asked Oakwood’s staff to remove the ice and snow before the next morning.  On the next morning, Mr. Bullard took the treacherous path and walked the plank to the generator.  But he slipped on an icy plank and fell six feet, sustaining injuries.
Mr. Bullard brought a premises liability claim against Oakwood.  He alleged that although ice is generally an “open and obvious” hazard, this ice had the requisite “special aspects” for him to recover for his injuries.  Under Michigan law, the special aspects are (1) a hazard “unreasonably dangerous” in and of itself, and (2) a hazard “effectively unavoidable” for the plaintiff.
The Court of Appeals held that the ice on the 2x8 planks was not unreasonably dangerous because it did not present a substantial risk of death or severe injury.  In fact, the Michigan Supreme Court held that a fall of 20 feet—as compared to Mr. Bullard’s six feet—from an icy plank did not create an unreasonably dangerous hazard.
Next, the Court of Appeals held that the icy plank was not effectively unavoidable.  Although the icy planks were on the only path to the generator, the Court found that Mr. Bullard had other options than to cross them at that particular time.  He could have asked the staff to remove the ice again.  He could have discussed it with his supervisor.  Instead, he chose to cross the icy planks right away.  Also, because Mr. Bullard’s generator inspections were monthly and routine, there was no impending emergency that caused him to cross the icy planks at that very moment.  The ice was, therefore, not “effectively unavoidable.”
The ice was an open and obvious hazard, and Mr. Bullard failed to show any “special aspects” that would impose premises liability on Oakwood.  The Court of Appeals, therefore, remanded the case back to circuit court for an order granting Oakwood’s motion for summary disposition.

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