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Sep 2014
11
September 11, 2014

Just in Time for Winter: Michigan's Slip & Fall Rules Change


As summer showers turn to freezing rain and snow, landlords across the state must prepare for the inevitable: snow and ice removal costs. Landlords and property managers must ask: How much is enough to avoid liability for an accidental slip on a snow-covered parking lot or a fall down icy stairs?

Thanks to the Michigan Court of Appeals, that answer just got more expensive.

Background: For years, Michigan courts held that an “open and obvious” danger – meaning an average person of reasonable intelligence could see the danger and avoid it, such as a slick sidewalk – created no duty for a property owner to warn of the danger or protect others from the risk. However, the courts also held that a duty that is either “effectively unavoidable” or one that poses a “substantial risk of death or serious injury” falls outside the protection of the open and obvious doctrine. 

In Attala v. Orcutt, the Michigan Court of Appeals determined that an ice-covered parking lot outside an apartment building that was plowed but not salted was effectively unavoidable. The Court determined that because there was no way for the plaintiff, a tenant, to access her car other than walking across the lot, the slippery pavement was “effectively unavoidable.” The Court concluded that previous protections under the open and obvious doctrine no longer applied, leaving the property owner facing substantial liability. 

This ruling could mean significant liability for landlords and property managers who choose to leave lots unsalted or allow other potentially hazardous property conditions to persist, even if a tenant or guest is aware of the conditions. The cost of salting and plowing lots and attending to other potentially hazardous conditions are the best way for property owners and managers to limit liability exposure.

Be careful out there – and let’s hope your tenants are, too.

 

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