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A Better Partnership
December 19, 2014

COA holds that a party may not avoid the open and obvious doctrine by alleging ordinary negligence

The Michigan Court of Appeals in Jahnke v. Allen, No. 317625 held that the open and obvious doctrine remains in force for a premises liability case, and a party may not claim ordinary negligence to avoid it.
Daryl Allen, the defendant landlord, and Bonnie Jahnke, the plaintiff tenant, were socializing at Bonnie’s home, where construction to the property was visible. Daryl, suffering from a medical condition, had a “dizzy spell” and Bonnie helped Daryl walk towards Daryl’s garage. As they were walking Bonnie’s foot fell off an edge of concrete pavers where some were removed due to the construction. Bonnie fell and Daryl landed on top of her causing injuries.
Bonnie argued she was injured because of Daryl’s negligence, while Daryl argued that Bonnie’s claim was actually a premises liability claim despite her assertion of negligence, and therefore the claim should be barred by the open and obvious doctrine.
The Court sided with Daryl. The Court noted that a “court is not bound by the labels that parties attach to a claim,” and that Bonnie’s claim was clearly a premises liability claim because the liability arose “solely from the defendant’s duty as an owner, possessor, or occupier of land.”
The Court therefore determined that because this was in fact a premises liability action disguised as a negligence action, the open and obvious doctrine applied. Thus, the Court dismissed the case as the construction was open and obvious.

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