Every year, right about this time, when Michigan gets slammed with winter weather, my office receives hundreds of calls from people who have been injured in bad falls on snow and ice. They have lots of questions about what their rights are, and what do land owners have to do to keep the roads, parking lots, sidewalks and store entrances we are walking on safe for travel. Because there seems to be a lot of confusion, I thought this would be a good time to talk about the laws in Michigan that cover this subject.
First, you should know that the general rule in Michigan is that a storekeeper, or a business owner, or any place that relies on the public for its business, like a gas station or a restaurant, owes you a duty of reasonable care to protect you from UNREASONABLE risks caused by dangerous conditions. The word unreasonable is an important one, because it tells us just how much effort the business owner or shop keeper has to put into making you safe. But you should also be aware that the courts do NOT require the business owner or the land owner to guarantee 100% safety at all times, and if the danger is something that a “reasonable” person would be able to see, then it is considered an OPEN AND OBVIOUS DANGER, and you cannot recover for your injuries.
A good example of an open and obvious danger is walking into a restaurant and tripping over the rug at the entranceway. Even if the rug was pulled up, the law says that the rug was there to be seen and observed and that would put the customer or “business invitee” on notice that a danger was present. A premises possessor or business owner is generally not required to protect a customer or invitee from open and obvious dangers. The logic behind the open and obvious danger doctrine is that “an obvious danger is no danger to a reasonably careful person.” The law also requires that all of us take reasonable care for our own safety, which means that we have a responsibility not to put ourselves in a dangerous situation.
Most of us know when we see snow and ice that we have to be careful and watch our step, because we all know from living in Michigan that snow and ice are slippery. Because of this the courts have held that snow and ice are open and obvious hazards. But there are some very important exceptions. What if you fall on black ice, which is almost impossible to see?
The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that clear or black ice is not visible. Black ice is not open and obvious unless 1) there is evidence that it was visible on casual inspection by the person who fell or 2) other indicators of a potentially hazardous condition were shown to exist. This usually means that the weather conditions alone would have put you on notice and made you aware that ice might be present.
In one recent case, the injured person presented evidence that when he fell on black ice there was just a light dusting of snow earlier in the day , that the parking lot and the roads leading to defendant’s premises were not icy, the injured person had not encountered ice in defendant’s parking lot before his fall, and a person employed by defendant who had been in the area saw no icewhere plaintiff fell. The court felt that this evidence helped to prove that the black ice was truly not visible and so the injured person was able to continue with his claim without dismissal by the court.
In other cases where slip and falls on black ice have occurred, the court said that a reasonable lifelong citizen of Michigan would have foreseen that mist, snow, fog, and freezing temperatures in February could lead to the formation of black ice.
There are other exceptions that protect the customer or business invitee’s injury claim due to the presence of snow and ice, and I have listed them here below. I will discuss these exceptions in greater detail in another upcoming blog about slip and fall cases in Michigan.
- If you are a tenant, your landlord has a legal and statutory duty to keep the sidewalks and parking lots in good condition and repair.
- If you have no other choice but to walk through dangerous snow and ice that you can see but which you cannot avoid, then you are effectively trapped in a dangerous situation.
- If there is another danger hidden under the snow that you could not have seen, like a broken curb or a hazardous pothole, that is an unreasonabledanger and you may be able to recover for your injuries.
Remember, winter always seems to be Michigan’s longest season and I want you to be safe when you’re out and about on slippery sidewalks, parking lots, steps and floors. Walk carefully in wet, snowy and icy places! Here at the Mike Morse Law Firm, we have attorneys that are specially trained in this area of the law. If you have a question or are injured in a slip and fall, please call or me mail me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org