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A Better Partnership
March 31, 2016

COA – Genuine issues of material fact exist where home health aide could not avoid inherently dangerous condition when all routes to home were covered in ice and snow

A home health aide faced an effectively unavoidable condition that was an inherently dangerous hazard that she was inescapably required to confront because she could not abandon her elderly patient, when she walked up a snow and ice covered driveway, slipped and was injured, held the Michigan Court of Appeals in Lymon v. Freeland, et al., No. 323926.  In light of this holding, the Court further concluded that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the open and obvious hazard involved special aspects such that defendants owed a duty to the plaintiff.      
 
In January 2013, Joyanna Lymon, a home health aide, was reporting to work at defendant’s home where she provided home health services to 84 year old Gloria Freeland who was suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s disease.  As Lymon traversed the steep snow and ice covered driveway, one she complained about days before to her supervisor, she slipped, fell and suffered a severely fractured leg which required surgery and rehabilitation.  Lymon filed a premises liability action against defendants.  Defendants moved for summary disposition which was denied by the trial court.  Subsequently, the parties stipulated to forego trial and agreed to an award of damages to Lymon totaling $330,000 conditioned on defendants’ preserving their right to an appeal.  Defendants then appealed the judgment by right.
 
On appeal, the Court of Appeals analyzed the facts of the case under a premises liability framework.  The Court found that Lymon was a business invitee and that defendants owed her a duty to exercise reasonable care to diminish ice and snow accumulation within a reasonable time.  However, this duty is limited where the snow and ice were “open and obvious,” which the Court found was the case in this matter.  Even though the snow and ice were open and obvious, liability could still arise when special aspects exist that make the open and obvious risk unreasonable.  Here, the Court found, special aspects did not exist to make the ice and snow risk unreasonable.  Next, the Court reviewed the facts to determine whether the hazardous driveway was effectively unavoidable, making Lymon inescapably required to confront the conditions.  In this case the Court held that, as a home health aide, Lymon did not have the option of abandoning her elderly and suffering patient, therefore a rational juror could determine that Lymon had no choice but to walk up the driveway.  In a final review of the facts, the Court concluded that all routes to the home were covered in ice and snow, Lymon was faced with two open and obvious hazards that posed danger to her safety and reasonable minds could differ as to whether she could have avoided the slippery conditions.  In holding that the trial court did not err in denying defendants’ motion for summary disposition, the Court reasoned that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the open and obvious hazard involved special aspects such that defendants owed a duty to Lymon. 

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