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BlogsPublications | January 2, 2017
3 minute read

COA rules that water leaking from defective fridge was proximate cause in slip and fall case

In Stenzel v Best Buy Company Inc., and Samsung Electronics American, Inc., No. 328804, a slip-and-fall case, the Court of Appeals held the trial court erred in granting summary disposition on the basis that there was no cause in fact or proximate cause.

Plaintiff Stenzel purchased a Samsung refrigerator/freezer from Best Buy. Best Buy delivered and installed the appliance in her home. As part of the installation process, Best buy connected the refrigerator's ice maker and water dispenser to the existing water line in the home. Two days later, Plaintiff returned home to find the refrigerator spraying water onto her kitchen floor. Plaintiff unsuccessfully attempted to stop the water. Plaintiff attempted to mop up the water damage with towels.  She had to haul the towels outside, and while attempting to drag a basket of towels outside, Plaintiff slipped and fell, breaking her leg and ankle.

Plaintiff brought suit against Best Buy, alleging negligence, breach of contract, and breach of warranty. Plaintiff later amended her complaint to add claims against Samsung. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of Best Buy and Samsung. Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that but for Best Buy and Samsung’s alleged negligence, Plaintiff would not have had water on either her feet or on the floor, and she would not have fallen while cleaning up the water caused by the defective refrigerator. Thus, the trial court erred in dismissing the case based on a finding of no cause in fact.

Best Buy and Samsung argued that even if cause in fact was established, Plaintiff still failed to establish proximate cause because it was not foreseeable that she would injure herself in a different room after she succeeded in stopping the water from spraying from the refrigerator. The Court held that the conduct that created a risk of harm was either Best Buy installing the appliance improperly, or Samsung providing a defective appliance, causing water to spray from the appliance and onto the kitchen floor. A “foreseeable, natural, and probable consequence” of water on the floor is that someone may slip and fall after coming into contact with the water. The fact that Plaintiff slipped and fell in the sunroom, not the kitchen, after she saw the water and stopped it from flowing from the refrigerator is not an intervening cause breaking the chain of causation because the intervening act, i.e., mopping up the mess, was reasonably foreseeable. See McMillian v Vliet, 422 Mich 570, 576; 374 NW2d 679 (1985). Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting summary disposition on the basis that there was no proximate cause.

Additionally, Samsung argued, and the trial court held, that it was improperly added as a Defendant under MCL 600.2957(2).  The Court of Appeals, bound by its decision in Williams v. Arbor Home, Inc., 254 Mich App 439; 656 NW2d 873 (2002), affirmed that ruling, but called for the Court of Appeals to convene a special conflict panel under MCR 7.215(J)(2).  Were it not bound by Williams, the Court would have held Plaintiff’s amended complaint as timely under MCR 2.112(K)(4) because it related back to the date of her original complaint.