How the Open and Obvious Doctrine May Affect Your Premises Liability Case

snow covered parking lot

Under the Open and Obvious Doctrine, landowners in Michigan are not liable for damages and/or injuries caused by hazardous conditions on their premises that may be considered “open and obvious.” There are, however, exceptions to the Open and Obvious Doctrine, namely if the hazard was unreasonably dangerous or effectively unavoidable.

Since these exceptions have come into effect, the courts have grappled with the issue of “effectively unavoidable.” In Lugo v. Ameritech Corp, the court hypothesized that an effectively unavoidable dangerous condition could exist in a commercial building with only one exit for the general public where the floor is covered with standing water. Later, the court in Hoffner v. Lanctoe stated that the “effectively unavoidable” exception, for all practical purposes, must require or compel the plaintiff to confront a dangerous hazard. Simply put, the Hoffner court determined if the plaintiff had a choice to confront or avoid the hazard, then it cannot truly be unavoidable.

The Open and Obvious Doctrine in Action

In the recent case of Livings v. Sage's Investment Group, LLC, the Michigan Supreme Court elaborated on the “effectively unavoidable” exception to the Open and Obvious Doctrine. The court held that an “open and obvious condition can be deemed effectively unavoidable when a Plaintiff must confront it to enter his or her place of employment for work purposes.” The court still adopted the objective standard of determining if any alternatives were available, which a reasonable individual in similar circumstances would have used to avoid the hazardous condition.

In this case, Ms. Living was employed at a diner that instructed its employees to park at the rear of the building and to utilize the backdoor. One day, Ms. Livings arrived to work to find the parking lot covered in snow and ice. She parked as instructed, and as she exited her vehicle, she slipped and fell. The court determined that since the employer required the utilization of the rear parking lot and backdoor, it was effectively unavoidable. Nevertheless, the court still determined the issue will be whether alternatives were available and would have been used by a reasonable person in the employee’s circumstance.

A property owner or manager can, therefore, escape accountability even if the injured party was simply following their instructions leading up to the accident/incident. Unfortunately, premises liability cases are not as straightforward as they may seem. If you or someone you love has been injured on another’s premises, do not wait to consult a legal professional at Grewal Law PLLC. We will fight to hold the negligent party accountable.

Contact our Michigan firm online for a free consultation with an accomplished attorney.

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